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Feb. 15, 2006 -- I'm in China on a business trip. We flew
into Hong Kong, which, although it is a part of China, has different rules than China about travelling here. For example, Hong Kong doesn't require a visa. China has quite strict rules about their visas. For instance, you must have one. Therein lies my dilemma.

Okay, so I didn't really get kicked out since I never made it in to China in the first place. Well, that's not quite correct either. I
did make it into China once. We stayed there one night and had
meetings the next day. Then we went back to Hong Kong for more
meetings and spent last night here. After 2 more meetings this
morning, we raced back to the border to get another Chinese visa for
me because my original Chinese visa only let me into China once. We
lugged all of our luggage, and we have a lot of luggage, all through
the long hallways. Finally we arrived at a little office in the
upstairs area of the immigration building only to find out that they
would grant visas to citizens of any country...except the US.

My co-workers decided that they would go on to China with their
multi-entry visas and they sent me back to Hong Kong. At least I have
nice accomodations. I'm staying in one of the shopping districts, so
that will keep me busy this evening. And tomorrow morning a nice
woman named Yvonne who is a friend of a friend of a friend is going to
take me to the Hong Kong immigration office to try to get a visa.
Then once I get the visa, I have to race back to the border because I
have an afternoon meeting in Shenzhen, just across the Chinese border.

So, if everything works out, I'll be in Hong Kong tonight, Shenzhen
(China) tomorrow night, back in Hong Kong Friday night, then home on
Saturday night. Whew!

So that's the new from Hong Kong.

<Hong Kong is really nice and most everyone speaks English since they
were "rented" by the British up until 1997. It's a huge city and I
feel like I've walked it from one end to the other, but I know I
haven't seen very much of it. Most of the walking has just been to
get from one meeting to the next, but tonight I plan to go out and do
a little bit of exploring since I'm more or less stuck here by myself.
Shenzhen is nice too, but not nearly as many people speak English.
It's a huge city with millions of residents and tons of sky scrapers.
And, the weird part is that it was built only 20 years ago to compete
with Silicon Valley. The city is based around the electronics
industry. There are lots of huge factories there that are more like
little cities than businesses. The factories have their own housing
for each of their several thousand employees. Each company takes up
several blocks. Sort of like modern company towns.

This is my first business trip and I didn't qutie realize how
exhausting it would be. There's so much to see here, but by 6 or 7
when we're finally done for the day, all I want to do is get off my
sore feet. I should have planned ahead and stayed through the weekend
to play tourist. Next trip, I'll have more forethought.

For now, I have some shopping to get done.

October 23, 2005 -- So as I said on the home page, I'm now living in California, working at a startup ( if you want to check it out. I'm really enjoying living out here other than the fact that by the time I get home from work most of my friends in Florida are already asleep.

Anyway, several people have asked about my post-Peace Corps trip to Europe. I was supposed to go to Romania to visit a friend of a friend...but, I underestimated the time it would take me to waddle from my hostel to the train station with my huge backpack on. By the time I made it and bought the ticket I was running really late. I rushed out and caught the first train heading to the airport, but I didn't pay attention to which airport. I was supposed to fly out of Brussels airport, but I ended up at the Charles de Gaule airport in Paris. Ooops.

I decided to make the best out a bad situation and just stay in Paris. There's so much to see there that I ended up staying for a week. I made it to the Louvre, up the Eiffel Tower, out to Versailles, and all around town. I found Paris to be incredibly expensive, but beautiful.

From there I went to Brugge, the Venice of the northern Europe, in Belgium. It was a nice little city with lots of tourists and full of great Belgian chocolates and beer. From there I went back to Brussels and successfully caught a flight to Prague. Prague was the best week of my trip. I stayed at a great hostel (called the Boathouse if anyone is going to Prague soon). They had homecooked meals and lots of really fun guests. While we were in Prague, some people I met and I rented a car and drove to a little, gorgeous town called Czesky Krumlov. It was breathtaking. Lots of buildings and art leftover from the Renaissance. Very cozy and extremely friendly.

From Prague, I flew back to Brussels and then took a train to Antwerp to visit the glorious Gretta, an old roommate from college. I learned a little Flemmish and took full advantage of all of the "solden" (sales) in Antwerpen (Antwerp). I shopped my little heart out. It was great.

From there I headed back to Brussels again and caught a plane to New York where I met my mom and we toured the Big Apple for a few days. Although my trip through Europe was fun, I was thrilled to finally be back in the US for good.

January 12, 2005 -- Oh my goodness, I hope no one thought I'd been buried alive in a pile of dust and couldn't update this page. I've just been lazy. Plus there really isn't much exciting stuff going on over here. The weather's incredibly dry and extremely dusty. But that's the same as this time last year.

On a trip up-country a few weeks ago I got to see a swarm of the much talked about locusts. There were probably a thousand or so flying around. We had the windows down (since the car had no a/c...actually, if the car was like most here, there probably wasn't and way to roll the window up or down anyway) and the locusts would fly in and we'd throw them back out. They're pretty big--maybe 3 inches long and 2 inches high. A friend of mine said that they ran into a swarm the day before and they had to keep pulling over to pull them off the car's radiator so it wouldn't overheat. Yuck! Fortunately for The Gambia, the locusts have been light and they came after most of the crops were harvested. Mali, Senegal, Niger, and Mauritania weren't as lucky.

I'm teaching the same digital electronics class as last year at Gambia Technical Training Institute. It's a lot easier to teach when you already have the notes written. So this year is a lot less work.

Hope everyone's Christmas went well. And I wish everyone a great 2005!! Take care and send an email sometime!!

Pictures of trip to London and Spain

Artsy-Fartsy pictures of the trip

November 1, 2004 -- Hola mis amigos! I've made it back from my journey to Spain. It was incredible. My friend Doug and I flew from The Gambia to London and spent one day there in its cold, refreshing, clean air. Then we flew Easy Jet (which is the cheapest airline in the world! We paid about $90 round trip to Madrid from London including taxes and everything!!!) to Madrid. And we stayed there for 5 days seeing all of Madrid's wonderful sites...the sites that we considered to be the most wonderful were the places that served food. We ate a lot! I think I must have gained several pounds in the the two weeks that we were in Europe. Anyway, after our 5th day in Madrid we rented a teeny-tiny little car which we named Pepe because he was actually pretty peppy for not being much bigger than a Hot Wheels car. Then we headed up to Barcelona for a couple nights. We spent an entire day driving around north of Barcelona trying to find my old house where I lived when I did a study abroad in Spain. Finally we found it. We knocked on the door, but no one was home. But it was fun just to drive around and we found a neat little park way up on a mountain that I'd never seen when I lived there.

The next day we headed southward and took a couple days to make it down to Granada. We stopped at the Alhambra, the fortress and palace grounds that were built and occupied by the Muslims while they occupied Spain from about 800AD to the 1400s. It was gorgeous. I took a lot of pictures!

Then we went to Sevilla because that's where Doug studied when he was in college. It was a nice town and we went to see the Roman ruins outside of the city. I hadn't even realized that the Roman empire extended all the way to Spain. (I guess that's why I failed the AP European History exam.) But the ruins were beautiful and they've unearthes some exquisite murals and columns. Lots of pictures of this too.

Then we headed back up to Madrid and caught our flight back to London. We spent another day there looking at all the sights of London. We saw Big Ben, Parliament Building, the Millenium Wheel, Notting Hill. It was fun and really cold which made it wonderful! With tears in our eyes we boarded the plane back to the hot and humid world of The Gambia.

October 5, 2004 -- Our trip to Guinea began in typical style. We planned the trip-- where we wanted to go, how long we'd stay, where we'd get the visa--far in advance. But, one day while browsing through the local newspaper I spotted an article titled Air Guinea Express plane crashes in Freetown. This was the airline we were planning on flying. The article didn't mention any deaths which seemed like a good sign, but it said that Air Guinea's other plane (they only have 2 apparently) was grounded in Conakry (the capital of Guinea). We discussed the news and decided that the odds of Air Guinea having 2 crashes in such a short time span would be very low. So we booked our flight and crossed our fingers.

We were scheduled to fly out on a Monday. Five of us were going--three from the capital city area and two from up-country. The two up-country volunteers arrived on Saturday all set to leave on Monday. But Sunday we got a phone call saying that the flight was changed to Wednesday. No big deal. But then Tuesday night we get another call saying that the flight will now leave on Thursday. After living here for over a year, we have developed great patience, so we are undeterred. Wednesday night we were packed and ready to go...finally. But, then Air Guinea calls again. The flight has been cancelled and we can come in Thursday morning and pick up our refund. Aargh.

After many more hassles, we finally get our money back from Air Guinea Express which we've learned is not "express" in any sense of the word. And we found a charter company that flies to Guinea so we get a flight for the following Friday. So we waited around for another week and wondered if we would ever make it to Guinea.

Fortunately, Friday morning we got off the ground and were on our way to Guinea. As we were flying I spotted a peninsula that I was sure was Conakry, the city we were going to, but we kept going. Hmm. Where were we going? Finally we landed at an airport surrounded by beautiful palm trees and filled with UN planes and helicopters. Was this Guinea? It looked like we had landed in war zone. We had! It was Freetown, Sierra Leone. We were escorted off the plane and sent into an air conditioned room where we could watch European news or shop in the duty free shop that had the cheapest alcohol I have ever seen. ($8/bottle for Absolut!!) And, the best part, I surreptitiously got a great picture of a UN helicopter without getting shot or my camera confiscated.

Finally the plane was ready to go again. But nothing is ever easy here. Vrrooom, vrrooom, sputter, sputter. One propeller started spinning and the other didn't go. The whole plane watched as the poor propeller tried its best to get going but just ended up making clunk-clunk noises. One man got up, grabbed his bag, and began heading off the plane until a flight attendant pushed him back to his seat with assurances that the propeller would be fine. Eventually the propeller got going and we were once again off to Conakry.

Finally we arrived in steamy Conakry that evening and got a taxi to the Peace Corps hostel. From there we were directed to a nice hotel because the hostel was filled. The hotel was magnificent -- only a few bugs, running water (hot water, if you were lucky), and a/c. It was by far the swankiest accommodations I had seen in a long time. I would have been content staying there for the week. But early the next morning we raced off to downtown Conakry to change our dollars to Guinea Francs. Then we haggled for what seemed like hours over the price of a taxi up to the mountain.

We ended up with a driver who seemed like he was in training for the Paris/Dakar Road Rally. The man raced around every curve with the agility of a stunt driver. A few times we were concerned that we might go hurdling off the sharp curves and end up in the valleys down below. But we made it to Pita in a mere 6 hours. There we stayed in the only motel in town which offered the coldest water I have ever felt, but power and a bed with minimal bugs.

The next morning we woke up to chilly weather which was the greatest thing I'd discovered since the nifty UN planes the hot water from the day before. What more could a dirty Peace Corps volunteer want? We found a tax which would take us to Doukie, the village we&#8217;d stay in for the next few days. We finally arrived and were pointed in the direction of Hassan Bah's compound. Hassan met us along the road to his house already bouncing along and ready to go for a hike.

A little bit about Hassan--he grew up in Sierra Leone (which is where he learned English). After high school he trained to be a mechanic and got a job in the Spanish Canary Islands as a sea-going mechanic. He learned Spanish there. Once he decided to settle down, he moved back to his ancestral home in the mountain of Guinea and became a community health nurse. A Peace Corps volunteer moved to the area and Hassan began showing him around the mountain. The volunteer was so impressed with Hassan's knowledge of the mountains that he would bring other volunteers along. Eventually the volunteer helped Hassan build a little camp for people wanting to see the Fouta highlands where he lived. The camp is pretty rudimentary, but the food that his wife and sister-in-law cook is amazing. And for $10/day, it's a great deal.

The first hike was called "Grand Canyon." It began with us walking around the entire village greeting everyone in typical West African custom. And we were waiting for the drizzling rain to end. Eventually the rain slowed to a sprinkle and we headed out of the village. Hassan's walks cut through lots of people's fields which means climbing over many fences. And fences here are not like fences in America. These fences are just sticks the have been tied together and in order to climb over them you have to step on carefully arranged sticks and pray that you won't get impaled. After the fence we headed down the steepest, slipperiest slop I could imagine. I should have taken this as an omen and raced back to my hut, but I whimpered my way down the slope and ended up seeing a foggy, but beautiful, valley down below.

The next day we were up early and heading out on what we thought would be a short hike. This hike was called Wet and Wild. We started off through a beautiful field and climbed over about 50 fences along the way (well, maybe more like 5, but it seemed like 50). The trail continued though thick damp forests, then down steep gravely paths, over slippery rocks, past waterfalls, and after about 3 hours we ended up at a beautiful swimming hole fed by a waterfall. We stayed there for about an hour and cooled our aching and sun burnt bodes. The trip back was all uphill. Two hours uphill. The first part had us bouldering up a rock face. The second part was climbing up a steep grassy inclines with rocks booby-trapping each step. And finally we ended up going up a steep incline for about 20 minutes straight. I was exhausted by the time we completed our 12k hike and made it home.

The next day Annamarie and I decided to forgo the hike. We played cards, napped, and enjoyed the peaceful little village. Five hours later the other arrived looking more exhausted than we had been the day before.

The third day, Annamarie and I decided we were up for another hike. Indiana Jones was the name of this one. It is named for the dense forest, amazingly tall rock formations, and swingable vines. Once again I began to doubt that I'd make it out of Guinea alive, but in the end it was all worth it. The sites were great and we even got to swing on a vine out over a big drop off. And we were able to swim in a little spot that looked like a Jacuzzi, but with cold water which was actually quite refreshing. And there was little bits of clay laying along the bottom of the pond which we broke into pieces and rubbed on our sunburns. This was by far my favorite hike.

Sadly our time in Doukie had to end and we had to return to Conakry to catch our plane back to The Gambia. Hassan had arranged 5 places for us in a station wagon. These station wagons are called a "sept place" here because they have 7 places. But in Guinea they're more like a "dix place" because they cram in 10 people. (In Mauritania they hold 11 people -- 4 in the back, 4 in the middle, 2 in the front passenger's seat, and 1 to the left of the driver!) Fortunately we had 3 adults and one baby in the back, 4 in the middle, 2 in the front passenger's seat, and one woman sitting behind the driver so that he had to sit forward for the entire 13 hour journey. Served him right, in my opinion, for packing so many people in his car. This driver, unlike the first one, seemed to have never really driven a car before. He spent the first 7 hours on a bumpy, awful road instead of taking the paved road that ran parallel to it. Finally when we had to go on the paved road he would only drive about 40 miles an hour which meant that every car, scooter, horse cart, and whatever had to swerve around us. But we finally made it to the nicely paved roads of Conakry. Fearing that we hadn't gotten our money's worth, he quickly turned off the paved road and headed over a road that was much worse than anything we'd found up-country. He then got lost and had the 3 Fula women in the front seat yelling at him. Finally, 7 hours after we should have arrived, he dropped us off in front of the Peace Corps hostel.

But our adventure wasn't over yet. Even though we had called several times to confirm our flight, when we arrived at the airport early the next morning, we were told that our names were not on the list. We should try again tomorrow morning. Our angry spokeswoman demanded that for our inconvenience the owner for the airline had to pay each of our 24,000 Guinea Franc airport fee which was an expert move we'd later find. So we headed back to the hostel to enjoy their a/c and hot water for another day.

Saturday morning we returned to the airport, got our boarding passes, checked our luggage, and got our airport tax paid by the large Lebanese man wearing the kaftan. We then proceeded to customs to wait in another line. I've left out one important detail of our trip. Our visas were only good for the month of September. Since our trip was pushed back by so much, we were going to be in Guinea a few days beyond our visa. But we figured that they wouldn't check our visa dates on the way out. And even if they did, they'd just kick us out of the country. But no, they wouldn't let us out to the gate of the airport unless we each paid the customs official to overlook the expired visa. Bethany, our Fula-speaking spokeswoman, told the officer that we didn't have anything but a few Guinea Francs on us, but we would pay whatever we could. He demanded at least 24,000 Guinea Francs from each of us which after combining everyone's money, we had. Fortunately, we didn't have to pay the airport tax too because we wouldn't have had enough to get through customs.

Finally we made it to the plane. One propeller vroomed to start and the other sputtered, but finally started. Off we went back to The Gambia after an eventful, but worthwhile trip to one of the most beautiful countries in the world.

I put some pictures of my trip on Ofoto, so if you haven't seen them yet you can cut and paste the following links into your browser window.

July 14, 2004 -- Greetings from the ungodly hot coast of West Africa. Some friends and I decided to treat ourselves to some shopping and lunch in the tourist area this afternoon, but I thought I might spontaneously combust from the intsense rays of sun. Fortunately we made it to a/c and I survived. I'm not venturing out in the afternoons ever again.

The new education volunteers arrived on the 8th which now officially makes me an old volunteer. I can't believe a year has already passed. Some parts of the past year have been very slow, but for the most part, it flew by. Most volunteers agree that the days go by slowly, but the months fly by.

This weekend I'm going up country with the new volunteers to take them to their training villages where they'll stay for the next 10 weeks...just like we did. Your first trip to the village can be a little distressing, so Peace Corps sends an "old" volunteer with them to help them get situated.

Hope everyone's doing well! Fo nyaato. (Until later.)

Wednesday, June 23, 2004 -- Big news! Big news! I finally have something worth writing about on my website!! I am now the prowd owner of a rusty and old, but beautiful, refrigerator. Actually, it's an old Coke cooler, but it still has some shelves that haven't completely rusted away and it keeps things cold! Now I only need electricity and I'll be set. We actually had about 3 hours of power this morning and the water I'd put in there was cold enough to hurt my teeth. It was a wonderful feeling. For the price of one package of KitKats, 2 avacados, 2 loaves of bread, and a promise to bake some banana-nut muffins in the future, it was delivered from up-country yesterday evening. Can life get any better????

June 16, 2004--I thought I should update this before you guys started thinking Id fallen into the River Gambia and was eaten by a hippo. Im still herejust being lazy and not updating this web page. Sorry eh!

My trip to Mauritania fell through. I ended up with a nasty sinus infection and didnt do anything but lay in bed. So I have no great tales of riding camels, camping out in the desert, or seeing Mauritania from the top of an ore train. But the rest of my friends went and they all said it was incredible. Hopefully Ill get to go yet!

The hot, rainy season has returned. Yesterday was miserably hot. Todays not so bad though. If youre in the shade, its actually quite nice today. Every afternoon I eat lunch at a little shop across the street from the Peace Corps office. Its just a small shack with some plastic chairs and tables outside, but the food is wonderful. Usually he serves Gambian dishes, but today he made Chicken Curry and it was amazing. Plus he has a wonderful dog that keeps his customers company while theyre eating. Actually, she usually just sits under the table and scratches at her fleas, but its still entertaining. (Perhaps my standards are declining?)

The semester is winding down and my summer vacation is going to start soon. I cant wait. I dont have many plans for July yet, but August should be a lot of fun. I have a friend coming for the first 2 or 3 weeks. She was a volunteer here for a little while and is coming back for a visit. Were going to travel around The Gambia and maybe into Senegal too. Then in mid-August Im doing mail run. A Peace Corps driver drives 2 volunteers to every Peace Corps site in the country dropping off mail. It usually takes 5 days, but since August is the rainiest month of the year, it might take longer. Im sure it will be an adventure. And barring anymore sinus infections, Im going to travel to Guinea Conakry in late August/early September. Its supposed to be very lush and tropical there. Lots of hiking and beautiful mountainous areas.

Well, I guess thats the latest from here. I hope everythings going well for you all!


Monday, April 12, 2004 -- Geesh, it's been a long time since I've updated this page. Sorry why. (That's Wollof for very sorry.) In the past couple of months since I've updated this nothing terrible exciting has happened. No run-ins with angry hippos or anything. But I did travel up-country for a few days for a Peace Corps workshop. We stayed at the same camp that we did a lot of our training at. Their motto is "Tendaba Camp is great...a million mosquitos can't be wrong." Really, that's their motto. And really, there are a million mosqitos there and it feel like each one of them takes a turn at biting you each night. After I survived the billions of mosquito bites, I headed even further east to visit my friend who lives in Panchang, on the border of Senegal. It's up on the north bank. It was really, really hot up there. A lot hotter than where I live which gets a nice breeze from the ocean. They get a hot breeze off the Sahara up there. I got to eat coos for the first time. Coos is millet and has the consistence (and some say taste) of wet sand. I thought it was pretty good although it does have a sour taste, but when you cover it with enough sauce, it's okay. Getting back home from Panchang was an adventure in itself. We sat on a log by the road for several hours before a dump truck finally came along. About 10 of us (8 people and two angry chickens with their feet tied together) loaded in the back. There were several bags of rice piled up against one side of the truck. The lady who owned the chickens handed them to me and pointed to the top of the rice bags. I placed them on top, but then they started squawking and fighting and slid down between the wall of the truck and the bags. There was lots more squawking, then silence. I thought I killed the chickens. But when we got off I saw that someone had dug them out and they were still alive. Anyway, they ended up cramming about 50 people and a few more chickens into the truck before we reached our dropoff. From there I wedged myself between a man and a woman with a baby for a van-ride to the next big town. They dropped us off on one side of town and we had to walk about a mile to the other side of town to the east-bound car park. And there I waited and waited and waited for a van going further east. A couple came, but I wasn't fiesty enough make it in. People yell and push and shove and hit and bite to get in. Finally, the driver of one of them found a seat for me. So about 3 hours after arriving in that town, I was finally headed east again. We made it to the ferry crossing late in the afternoon and it was beautiful to see the sunset as we were crossing the river into Banjul. From Banjul it was just two more taxi rides back to my house. After about 12 hours of travelling the 120 miles I finally made it home, covered in dust and sweat. Home sweet home.

My next big adventure is a trip to St. Louis, Senegal, for the jazz festival there. Then we're going to cross into Mauritania which is in the Sahara. We have been assured that Mauritania will blow our minds. Sand dunes, sand, camels. All the things you picture in the dessert. And it's very conservative, so I have to keep my arms (and possibly head) covered while we're there. And Mauritania was the last country on earth to outlaw slavery and it still exists in parts of the country. I'm sure it will be a very interesting experience. I'll let you know how it goes!

Take care and hope everyone's doing well.

February 29, 2004 -- I'm back from my adventures in Dakar.  We left on a Friday morning before sun-up to catch the first ferry across the River Gambia.  Then we caught the bus that runs from The Gambia to Dakar every morning.  It was about an 8 hour ride.  Dakar was an absolute shock to our systems.  There are roads that are similar to interstates with overpasses, underpasses, places to merge!  And there were sidewalks along the streets!  And street lights on the corners!  It was so western.  And Dakar even has a skyline!  My friend Jenni and I stayed with a really nice American couple who works for the state department.  They had a beautiful apartment right on the main plaza in Dakar.  And they had all the American ammenities -- refrigerator, microwave, tv with satellite, hot water!  Jenni and I were in heaven.  We ate American cereal with cold milk every morning and they had cupcakes for us to snack on when we got home.  I was very tempted just to go AWOL and stay there forever. 
The softball went pretty well too.  We lost the first three games on Saturday and the first game on Sunday.  But...then they put me on the team and we were on a roll!   We won our next game against a Senegalese Peace Corps team which put us up against Peace Corps Mali.  And we beat Peace Corps Mali!!!  Sweet revenge!  But then we lost our next game so we were out.  But that left us the next day to tool around Dakar.
Monday afternoon we went to Goree Island which is a small island off the coast of Dakar.  Its sort of like an African Mackinac Island -- no cars, old houses, sorta touristy.  It was beautiful and we got to climb up inside the cannons through a maze of rusty ladders.  Goree's coast line is very rocky so it was great to see the waves crashing down below.
The ride back on Tuesday took about 8 hours in a station wagon and was very hot and dusty.  But it made us even more glad to be back in The Gambia where everything is familiar. 

Okay, I know that it probably seems like I've completely forgotten about this website, but I haven't.  I have even updated it recently, but the changes weren't saved!  Tripod does not work well with Gambia's low bandwidth.  Gosh, the internet conditions here make even dial-up connections in the US look like they're moving at warp speeds. 
Anway, I wanted to add this to my website.  It's an email that one of the distance learning students, Momodou Joof, wrote about Christmas in The Gambia.
Christmas in The Gambia is celebrated in a way that suits our culture most.  Apart from the normal church services, the youths and the children saw it as moment to party around. While some take to eating and drinking others join their join their lovers to enjoy themselves in night clubs' musical shows and festivals. The younger generation enjoy playing Christmas games, operating fire works and decorating their homes and schools.
In Banjul where I live and the surroundings, the youths form groups and build a boat like thing made out of a light wood locally called 'tara'.This is well decorated with paper punched to create designs on it. Candles are lit in it at night and then paraded in town accompanied with drumming and dancing. At the end of the xmas time, it is delivered to a special patronized person or company. This boat is called 'fannal' .
These groups do also organize another form of a carnival called 'hunting'. Here, one of them is covered with a locally decorated costume with so many
items like calabashes, palm tree fibre,shells,goat or cow horns etc attached
to it to make it look horrible. This is paraded around town accompanied with
its own songs and drumming. The boys dress like the girls and vice versa.
This plus many other things form part of Christmas and new year celebrations
in The Gambia.
Early February was Tobaski.   It is the Muslim celebration of Allah (God) allowing Ibrahim (aka Abraham) that he could just kill a ram instead of sacrificing his own son.  So, Muslims slaughter a ram and have a big feast on Tobaski.  (Tobaski is a Wolof word, I dont know what the Arabic word is for it.)  I spent Tobaski at the home of another PCVs friend.  When we got there, they led us out to meet the ram.  He seemed terrified.  I think he knew what was coming.  We petted him, then left.  A few minutes later a group of men showed up to slaughter the ram.  No one in the house we were at wanted to kill it, so they had gotten some neighbors to come do it.  I watched through a window as the ram was being slaughtered.  Fortunately a tree blocked most of it.  I didnt watch as it was being butchered though.  We ate benachin, which is a spicy rice, with ram on it.  The ram meat was okaydefinitely not so good that it was worth killing ram though.
Last weekend I went to a village in The Gambia just north of the Senegal border.  We stayed at a little tourist camp there.  It was very quiet and relaxing.  All of the beaches around here are filled with bumsters.  Bumsters are Gambian men who wander the beach bugging the tourists.  They offer to be guides or to help the tourists find hotels, restaurants, etc. in exchange for a money.  Their often scam-artists and not well-liked by anyone.  But their were no bumsters in Kartung.  It was very nice. 
Friday I leave for Dakar which is trip I've been excited about for months.  I've seen pictures of last year's trip and people looked cold!  I can't wait!
Hope everyone is doing well. 

January 20, 2004 -- Hi everyone.  I know it's been a LONG time since I've updated my webpage.  There just hasn't been that much exciting news.  I did see a very large rat the other evening in my friend's kitchen.  It almost ran across my foot as it was running out of the kitchen, down the hall, and out the door which had blown open in the wind. 
Work's been very busy.  Our distance learning class begins in February 3rd, so there's been A LOT of work to do in getting that ready.  Keep your fingers crossed that all progresses well.  Computer are still dying left and right at the university and I keep learning more and more about fixing them.  I've also learned that I don't want to become a computer repair technician.
Avacado season is now over, but I must admit that I did grow a little fond of it...even if it does look more like the stuff that drops on your head if you're standing beneath a tree full of birds than it does a food item.  Of course, I think if you add enough mayonaise and seasoning to anything, it can't taste too bad, right? 
I was sitting at a little Lebanese restaurant near my house and watched as about 100 head of cattle traipsed by.  Traffic slowed while they meandered through the streets, heading down to the beach.  There's not really a lot of places for cattle to graze here, so they just wander around.
The weather's been nice.  It's been a little warm during the day, but evenings are wonderful.  On Monday nights we usually go to the Franco-Gambian Alliance to watch a movie.  (They have a nice little amphitheatre and a large screen that they project movies onto.)  And last night I finally got the chance to wear the sweatshirt I brought with me. 
I'm taking French classes at the Franco-Gambian Alliance too.  My progress is VERY slow, but it's interesting and hopefully I'll be able to at least read the phrases out of my little French book when I go to Senegal.  I'm going to Senegal in February for the West African Invitational Softball Tournament.  I'm sure it won't be nearly as exciting as the softball games at Honeywell, but I'll try to have fun nonetheless.  Maybe if Honeywell's THAAD-IMU team wants to play a real "away" game, they can come challenge Peace Corps/The Gambia's team.
Hope everyone is doing well.  Thank you to everyone who's sent letters and emails and packages.  You guys are wonderful!!!

 Foibles and Friendliness My first Gambian Wedding Ceremony

Sunday, December 28, 2003

 Sunday I attended my first Gambian wedding ceremony at the invitation of my counterpart.  It was his wifes brothers daughters wedding.  (Also some relation to him since his wife is his cousin a Mandinka tradition.)   It was quite different than an American weddingespecially in that the bride and groom did not attend.  They are both attending school in the UK where they met each other. (I heard that the wife is studying to be a lawyer.)  Gambian weddings are allowed to be done by proxy.  In fact, Ive even heard of situations where the bride and/or groom dont even know that they are married until someone tells them about the ceremony.  I think that these two knew they were getting married though.  They were videotaping the ceremony to send to them anyway.

 We arrived at the ceremony around 5pm, but it had been going on for quite a while already.  The men were all outside praying and the women who were all dressed in their most beautiful gowns sat in the living room (or parlor, as Gambians call it).  The women chatted, the babies cried, and the toddlers threw tantrums.  Around 6 we all moved outside, the men sat in a group circling the imam and the women sat behind them.  The ceremony only lasted about 45 minutes and mostly involved praying, then some of the men sang.  I didnt understand any of the singing or the prayers. 

 After the prayers were finished, women started carrying tray after tray of chicken smothered in onions (chicken yassa) on rice to the men.  Then they carried boxes of soda to them.  Finally, the men disbanded and joined the women.  Then the women who had carried out all of the trays of food came out with more trays of food and served the women.  After the chicken, they brought out fish cakes (which are flaky pastries filled with smashed up fish bits) and coconut cake (the same flaky pastries but with coconut and sugar on top) and even more soda. 

 Anyway, my foibles right after we arrived an old women handed me the plastic baby doll she was carrying on her back.  She left me to babysit while she danced.  When she came back she told me that the baby wanted a dalasi (money).  Being the sucker that I am, I thought she was going to give it to the bride.  I dont know why I thought that a woman who carried a plastic baby around would be allowed to collect money for the bride and groom.  Suffice it to say, an old crazy woman is a little richer now.

 The next foible...every woman there had their heads covered either by head wrap or a scarf except for me.  A woman came over and handed me a head scarf and I thought it was because I was supposed to cover my head too.  But then she said no; it was for money.  Ahh, this must me the person who is collecting money for the bride.  Nope.  The toubab was duped again.  She was just asking me to give her money.  She lent me her scarf, so I should lend (more like give) her money.  Another woman tried it afterwards, but Id caught on by then.  Fortunately there was a nice woman who spoke English sitting beside me and she explained that these women just thought I should give them money since I was a westerner and therefore had lots of money.

 So thats the end of my first Gambian wedding story.  It was fun and definitely a Peace Corps cultural experience. 

Here's the article....
University to introduce distance learning
By Madi Njie & Sheriff Janko Jnr
Dec 11, 2003, 12:17

Email this article
 Printer friendly page
Professor Edris Makward
The University of The Gambia will introduce distance learning courses by January 2004.
Disclosing this at the fourth matriculation ceremony held Monday at the University of The Gambia, Acting Vice-Chancellor, Professor Edris Makward, said the distance learning course is ready to take off in January and will be conducted by professionals in China, the United States and other countries for the benefit of Gambian students. That, he said, will help widen the standard of learning in the University of The Gambia.

He commended Muhammed Jah of QuantumNet for providing the necessary networking free of charge to facilitate the process. He also thanked the US Embassy for facilitating arrangements with colleges in America.
With this development, he said The Gambia will have a university that is appreciated by all Gambians and help ease the burden of seeking university education abroad.

According to Professor Makward, the universitys governing council has proposed a development project which is aimed at constructing a fully-fledged campus with all the necessary academic and living facilities.
Already, the document of the proposal has been sent to the Education ministry for effective action. The Education permanent secretary and the Local Government ministry have promised to identity diligently, an appropriate piece of land as the first step towards the implementation of the project, he said.

Professor Makward further expressed the importance of admission to a university which is a privilege owed to families and to the country. As young Gambian citizens, he said, studying at the Gambia University is something that we should be proud of.

Illustrating the prized privilege enjoyed by young Gambians, he called on them to take up the chances available as more and more Gambian professionals are considering having their children enroll in the University of The Gambia instead of sending them overseas.
About 300 students of the university matriculated at the ceremony held at the faculty building, Kanifing.

© Copyright 2003 by Observer Company

And in case you want to see the other exciting happening in The Gambia, the address to the Daily Observer is

Dear Home People,


I know its been an awfully long time since I last updated this webpage.  I went up country for a few days to learn about manure tea and other exciting gardening ideas (maybe Ill finally start that garden, Mr. Boutelle!).  Then it was Thanksgiving and all 100 of us PCVs converged on the capital area for meetings, feastings, and even a trip to The Gambia's only brewery.  All the excitement was more than I could handle and I ended up with yet another sinus infection.  But I guess those are a lot better than the parasites that everyone else is getting.


Work has been busy, busy, busy.  My big project is still the distance learning thing.  So far were just trying to get the equipment we need and help the students get email accounts, get used to chatting online, and get accustomed to Yahoo Groups.  Today was our first class....we have a long way to go before those things are achieved.  However, by the end of this class we will (enshala [Allah willing]) have students who can help us with the next group.


The weather has improved tremendously.  Now it's downright comfortable at night.  Sometimes you even *want* a sheet over you to keep you warm.  The days are still pretty warm, but it's a dry heat which makes it much easier to deal with.


Joan Tesch and the guys are incredible!!!  Thank you so much for the muffin tin!  And I just got another care package from you all with all sorts of stuff in it.  Thank you so much!


I'll try to get better about writing.  I posted some new pictures on the pictures page.  Keep the letters and emails coming!  The university will be closed for 2 week over Christmas break and I'm going to get caught up on everything then.  So expect an avalanche of emails and letters after Christmas! 

Sunday, November 2, 2003 -- I have survived my first week of Ramadan.  My counterpart, however, did so, but barely.  Muslims eat a big breakfast at 5am then eat no food nor drink any water until sundown when they break fast with bread and tea.  They then attend prayers around 10pm, then eat a huge meal afterwards.  On Tuesday night my counterpart had already broken fast with bread and tea was in the midst of the 10 O'clock prayers, bending down to pray, and blacked out.  Fortunately he was quickly revived and only suffered a cut lip.
Many of my fellow PCVs are also fasting, but if I tried it, I'd probably black out by noon. So I sneak home around 2 and have lunch.  And then I try not to eat again until after dark so that I don't offend anyone.  The family that I rent my apartment from is Christian so they eat all day too.  The compound that we live in is in a perpetual state of repairs--new windows, new tiling around the water pump, new cement in the backyard--and I'm never sure if the men working are Muslim or not. 
The weather's getting cooler.  The afternoons are still blazing hot, but evenings and mornings are nice.  No rain lately, so the sand is getting deeper and deeper.  This morning a van was stuck just down the street from my compound.  I walked by just as the man was getting out to see how he could get the van out of the sand that was covering about a third of his tires.
And work at the university is still keeping me very busy.  I'm really enjoying it.  It's nice to think that you're making a difference. 
I've found that my insatiable thirst for shopping can easily be remedied here too.  Serrekunda market (I put a picture of it on my pictures page a few weeks ago) has an excellent supply of most anything.  We even found a shoe store in the midst of the uproar that is the market.  A real, live shoe store.  It looked just like the Nine West store at West Shore Plaza.  Beautiful shoes...high heels, sandals, pumps, clogs, you name it...all there.  Shoes are a very important part of the wardrobe here and this store definitely underscored that fact of Gambian life.  Women always wear beautiful (and often extraordinarily uncomfortable) shoes that perfectly match their cumpletas (outfits--skirt, top, and head wrap). 
That's all for now.  Congratulations to the new Mrs. Kelly (Wong) Hagen, former EE-intern at Honeywell and my former roommate. 

Saturday, October 25, 2003 --   (doh!  I type these in Word, then paste them into this web page editor, but it always deletes all of my apostrophes and other grammatical marks.  And I'm just too lazy to fix everything.  Sorry.)
Hi!  How's everyone doing?  Im back with more exciting stories of my adventures in The Gambia.  Well, actually its not that exciting.  But heres the latest


Works going very well.  The University of The Gambia is part of a really neat project between East Carolina University in the U.S., a university in China, and a university in Switzerland to teach a class on world cultures.  Each university will do a 3-week link between each of the other universities using a live audio and video feed.  Well discuss family relationships, feelings about work, and the predominant religions affect on the region.  The students will work in pairs (one from The Gambia and one from another university) to write papers comparing and contrasting the cultures.  The last two weeks of the semester all four universities will link up and discuss what theyve learned. 


One of the most exciting things about this is how much its pushing our university to catch up with other universities in terms of technology.  Weve managed to reach an agreement with a local ISP for them to donate a 256k connection to the university for next semester (when well be having the class).  The 256k connection is 4 times what we currently have.  And were now buying a video project and laptop computer that will be used for the class and also be used in the future for other distance learning project.  The university has difficulties getting professors to teach high-level courses especially in the area of math.  So now, well be able to offer these classes even though theyre taught in another part of the world.  And, well also, hopefully, be able to offer other advanced-level classes and even Masters degrees which are quite in demand around here. 


As you see, works been keeping me pretty busy.  The heats gotten a little better.  I think I might survive. But I dont think that Ill ever move any closer to the equator than this.  Its just too close to the sun. 


The fruit trees in my front yard are producing wonderful fruit.  Ive even learned to like avocados a little.  I chopped one up, sprinkled them with lime juice (thanks for the idea, Frog), and put it on pita bread with mayonnaise.  Not bad.  And the banana tree is producing very sweet bananas.  But one night last week, I reached up in the tree to grab a bunch of bananas and I almost grabbed a bat that was hanging upside down from the same branch.  Yikes!


Ramadan begins on Monday.  Its the month of fasting that Muslims observe.  They dont eat any food or drink anything from sun up to sundown for 30 days.  And especially pious Muslims fast for another 6 days afterward just to be sure they have leap years and all covered.   The purpose of Ramadan is to allow Muslims who Allah has blessed with a good life to understand what its like to be hungry.  Fortunately, Gambian Muslims are very nice and understand that not everyone has to fast during this time.  However, non-Muslims, of course, refrain from eating in front of anyone who is observing Ramadan.  Most restaurants close during the month of Ramadan though because business is so slow.  But, Ive heard that after the first week, people begin to slack in their observances and start snacking throughout the day.  But Ill let you know how all of this goes.


˙That's all for now.  Hope everyone has a superbly spooky Halloween.  Take care.

Sunday, October 12, 2003 -- Another installation of "Survivor: Gambia" as my Honeywellers have termed it.  Alls well here other than it seems like the sun might crash into this poor little country at any moment and incinerate all of us.  Works going swell too.  The University's progressing as well as a university in a country whose main export is a goober pea can progress.  Hopefully well have at least 11 of the 15 computers in the main lab at the University up and running by Wednesday when classes begin.  Thanks to Bear, another PCV, I've learned a lot about computer hardware repair in the past few weeks.  You would have thought that 5 and a half years of college and almost 2 years as an electrical engineer would have produced someone more computer hardware savvy.  But I've learned to replace batteries, switch out hard drives, take apart CD-ROMS that eat my CD, and recognize modems fried by lightening.


As I mentioned before the weathers been a little hot lately.  And, sadly, the rainy season seems to have ended.  The road to my house is about 9 inches thick with soft sand.  The only way I can think of to describe it is like the sand in the orange groves.  Your feet sink right into the sand.  And the dust has been incredible and Ive heard it only gets worse.  However, sometimes during the night the harmattan winds blow in from the Sahara and theres a really cool breeze.  Those are the best nights to sleep.  The harmattan winds that blow during the day though are usually just hot and dusty.


One of the projects that I'm working on at the university is trying to create a little technology library."  Many of the students want to learn more about computers, but there are few resources.  Computer textbooks are good, but they are incredibly expensive and after a year or 2 they are obsolete.  The Internet is the best resource, but that only works if there's power, if the phone lines are working, and if all the networking and computer equipment at the university is working.  And it's very rare that all these 3 things are working at the same time.  So, the next best thing is computer magazines.  I'm going to start a little letter writing campaign to computer magazines asking them to donate a subscription to our university.  Hopefully I'll be able to convince them that one subscription at the university will generate enough interest in the students to study computers that they will in turn buy their own personal subscriptions.  So, if anyone knows of any good computer magazines, please let me know so that I can put them on my list of magazines to write to. 


Hope all's going well for everyone.  Carrie...I got your care package.  The Glamour has been a big favorite with everyone and we've all taken turns sniffing the soaps you sent.  They smell so fresh and so clean!  And I've been devouring the Wired too.  And if anyone reading this ever talks to Thanh Truc Vo (who NEVER checks her email) tell her I said happy birthday! 

Thursday, October 2, 2003 -- Hello everyone.  Hope you're all doing well.  Gambia's been a rather eventful place this week.  With the constantly devaluating Dalasi (Gambian currency), the country and its citizens are all feeling a little stressed.  When we got into the country the Dalasi was at about 28 Dalasi to $1.  But now it's fell to about 37 Dalasi to the $1. 
Since the Dalasi is worthless outside of The Gambia, the shopkeepers are in constant need to dollars, pounds, euros, and CFA (the money used in Senegal and several other West African countries).  Many shopkeepers here have a blackmarket money changing business on the side.  This is how they get quick cash (in other currencies) to restock their shelves.  And, as the Dalasi's value falls, prices keep increasing and increasing.  Salaries, of course, are not increasing, and it's getting harder to afford the basics of daily life here. 
So, here's a copy of an email written by Mike Sheppard, another newly sworn in Peace Corps volunteer.  Mike also lives in the Banjul area and he works at the census bureau because you've never met anyone who loves statistics as much as Mike.  By the way, Mike went to Michigan State (thought perhaps Lauren would be happy to hear her university is representing) and earned 5 -- yes FIVE -- bachelors degrees. Statistics, physics, astronomy, math, and, ...ooops, I forgot the last one...but there is one more.  Anyway, here's the email he sent home about what went down in Banjul on Monday.
 Had an interesting day at work yesterday. It takes two taxis, D9, and 30-45
minutes to get to Banjul (if your lucky). After I arrived in Banjul I
realized that the place I thought the Census was, wasnt. I was supposed to
be there at ten. After walking around until a quarter before I just hired a
taxi. He didnt know either and was asking people himself. Its basically
like being in DC and asking someone where the Department of Labor, for
example, is. They all know that its here somewhere, but very few people
know exactly. The taxi driver gave up. I eventually found it, a half hour
late, but they didnt care. They found it odd that most people actually
werent showing up for work today. That should have been a hint, if it
wasnt in reality quite common of people not showing up.

The first thing I did was ask my coworker to draw me a map of Banjul so I
get there on time from now on. He laughed, starting drawing and even
included landmarks. Basically the landmarks were the equivalent of a
McDonalds, a Gas Station, and a park.

About an hour later the power went out, along with the AC. So we opened a
window and starting talking by the window. He was telling me what projects
they had coming up, what I could do, what programs they use, etc. At around
12:30 he noticed a lot of people were running outside. We just both watch
people run for a few seconds before my cell phone rang.

Mike? Bear. Are you in Banjul?
Yes, Im at work
You might want to get back to the Office. I just received a call from Marc.
Somethings happening. You might not be able to get out of Banjul later.
O.K. Thanks.

Hung up and told my supervisor that I had to go and that I dont know when
Ill be back. He smiled understandably, we exchanged cell phone numbers, and
he walked me down stairs and around the corner to the car park for me to get
a ride out. He went back to work, but told me if I couldnt get a ride out
by 4:30 then they will take me.

I didnt know what the something was; but I could tell that yes,
something, was going on. For three city blocks straight were the
15-passenger vans packed full of people. When a new one arrived people
scrambled to get in. Every taxi was full. I tried getting into any taxi, big
or small, but all were filled to capacity and more. What was more was that
every money exchange shop were closed, the black market dealers were nowhere
to be seen, most shops were closed, children were out of school, and people
were running.

Usually I carry in my wallet enough money for the day, usually D50 (its D18
round trip to work, and the rest for breakfast/lunch). Today I had D100, and
my emergency five-dollar bill I had folded up, for that just-in-case
scenario. This was a just-in-case case.

I took out D25 and the $5 bill and told a bumpster that if he got me a cab
to go to the American Embassy he can have the D25. The Embassy is a block
away from the Peace Corps Office. The bumpster ran away and two minutes
later, out nowhere, mixed with cabs full of people came an empty cab just
for me, along with the bumpster inside. Later I was told that the taxi
driver most likely kicked everyone out of his own cab just to give me a

I held out the $5 bill and the taxi driver agreed, but as we were about to
pull away he changed his mind and wanted Dalasi instead. D200 of it. The $5
is worth anywhere from D150 to D190 depending on who you go to. He didnt
want mixed money either (US and Dalasi). I still hadnt given the bumpster
the D25 so he hopped inside and told the taxi driver where to go to get
money exchanged, even though every place was closed.

We arrived next to a bank where a money exchange shop was located, both
closed. The bumpster and I got out, he knocked on the side door and the
owner opened the door. They exchanged words and the owner took my $5 and
told me 30 meaning D30/$1. A bit low, but you couldnt really argue in
that situation. I agreed. He took the five, gave me D150 and as we were
about to leave he shouted, Wait! and looked at me angrily. He marched over
to the other desk, took out a counterfeit pen and made a mark on the bill.
His expression changed 180, looked up and said O.k. Thanks. Goodbye and
shut the door.

Got back to the taxi, paid the taxi driver the D150 and D50 more, the
bumpster D25, and the taxi driver gave the bumpster a little too. And we
took off. The road was packed full of people all wanting to get a ride but
he rode past all of them. When we got to the bridge the usual Police Stop
was in affect (which honestly only saw a few cars before getting stopped).
Now most cars were stopped. We were allowed through.

Drove the 20 minutes to the Embassy; cant park in front of it, so he drops
me off at the Peace Corps office. Where I wanted to go anyway. Walked in and
went to the volunteer lounge. There were about a dozen volunteers wondering
whats happening. The Senegalese radio was saying it was an attempted coup
d'état. The Peace Corps security person was on the phone with the Embassy,
the Embassy on the phone with both Washington and also Senegal to get and
compare more information.

The something was in fact, a relative nothing. The government wanted to
stop the high rate of inflation that was happening and so they were going to
do it by two ways: 1. Order all shops to reduce prices; below the prices
they bought the products for; and 2. Arrest all black market money
exchangers. They decided to do both simultaneously on the same day, on a
Monday, without telling anyone ahead of time. Most shops protested by
closing up for the day and sending people home. The black market dealers
started running away from the police, which got other people wondering why
theyre running and why people are closing up shop, so they start running.
Pretty soon a whole panic happened, enhanced my Senegalese radio saying it
was a coup. An hour or so later every cab in Banjul was full of people
trying to get out.

A few volunteers were actually stuck on the bridge at the time going into
Banjul when everything happened. For a half-hour they were trying to get a
ride back and were about to call Diana (The country director) to have them
be picked up by Peace Corps when they found a ride. Another volunteers
principal was stuck in Banjul until late evening.

Everyone made it back, and when the public realized it wasnt anything even
close to a coup everything started settling down. Today is basically back to
normal. It was just a big scare for everyone.

So, as you can see, we're all totally safe and sound here in The Gambia. A few people have asked what the political situation is like here and I thought this email might give you all a little insight. 
So everyone take care!  I'll write again soon.

Friday, September 26, 2003 -- Hello everyone!  On Fridays they pick up our packages from the post office and I got a bunch - 5 in all.  You guys are so awesome!  I got two packages from Joan and all the Honeywellers (thanks for all the spices, mixes, Chromium Picolonate, magazine, Clif Bars, hand sanitizer, bars of soap, Slim Jims, etc.) and two from Glen and Debbie Vierheller - you guys rock too.  I should have enough soap and Slim Jims now for 2 years!  And I got the box of a million Slim Jims from the great ludo (parchesi) player Evil Aja, my training site mate Amanda who's now back in Boston eating steak instead of sour milk coos porridge. 


In an email, Dave Doheny asked about the treatment of women in The Gambia.  So here goes -- it's long, sit tight.  Life for women in The Gambia is not easy.  As soon as the rooster crows at first light, you hear the women sweeping out their homes.  They then move on to pounding the coos, rice, or groundnuts for breakfast.  The women usually sit on a 1 foot high stool stirring a boiling pot of porridge that is heated by a bonfire.  This process takes at least an hour, often more, since there are several people to feed.  As soon as breakfast is finished, the women head out to the fields.  Usually each wife is given her own plot of land and all the wives take turns working each others fields.  The people left behind in the compound - usually elderly women or teenage daughters - make lunch and have a small boy deliver it to the women.  The women return just before sun down.  They

take their baths, then begin cooking dinner.  Dinner is usually served well after dark around 9 or 10.  Usually the older girls are responsible for washing dishes.  After dinner, until about 11 O' clock or midnight is the only time the women relax.  They sit outside on the bantuba (a large bench) chatting with each other, their children, and their husband.  The typical Gambian woman sleeps no more than 6 hours a day, but still manages to remain cheerful and always up for dancing.


Now as for Daves question about how an American woman lives in this culture  Gender rolls are very defined here.  One of the female volunteers had her host brother rush into her hut when he heard her hammering.  Hammering is NOT womens work.  Another volunteer who was fixing her bicycle had the men in her family make her stop.  They would fix it for her, they said.  But, to be fair, even male volunteers have had such tasks taken away from them.  How would a toubab know how to do these things??


One of the most difficult things for me is greetings.  In Gambian society it is very rude not to greet everyoneexcept those younger than you or, if your female, man.  If a woman greets a man, it can be construed as a come-on.  Looking a man in the eye, walking past a man more than once, exposing your knees, initiating a handshake can all be misconstrued. 


Even if you avoid all of these things, you still get unwanted marriage proposals.  But the Peace Corps has armed us with many tactics to avoid this.  One is to say that you already have a husband back in the States or that your parents are arranging a marriage for you.  Or you can say that you already have 7 husbands, but if hes interested, he can be #8.  Or, my favorite - since Gambian men have to pay dowries for their wives, is to request an obscenely large dowry.  I tell them my parents want one million dalasi, 15 cows, 10 sheep, 5 goats, and 3 brand new Mercedes.  (Note to Mom & Dad:  Don't get your hopes up, no takers yet.) 



Alls going well here.  Hotter than heck lately.  Sometimes I wonder if my brains not melting from all the heat.  Ive heard that October is supposed to be excruciatingly hot as hot and humid as September, but no rains to cool it off.  But there is supposed to come a day in November when the weather turns gorgeous low humidity and cool temperatures.  I cant wait! 


Okay, enough for now.  Ill write more later.  Take care and keep in touch.  (When I copied this from Word to my website, some of the punctuation got messed up...sorry.)

Sunday, September 21, 2003 -- I have a home!  I have a home!  And its the cutest little apartment youve ever seen!  Its got tile floors, 2 bedrooms, a living room, a bathroom (with indoor plumbing--no more pit latrine!), and a kitchen.  The kitchen has a gas stove and a sink.   Ill be sharing it with another newly swore-in volunteer who will be working in Banjul a few days a week and staying with me when shes in town.  And the rest of the time Ill probably have other volunteers staying with me when theyre in town.


Just outside me front door theres an avocado tree thats already got several avocados hanging from it.  I havent really found any appealing uses for avocados yet, unfortunately.  Guacamole is gross and avocados are definitely not good raw.  But there is a grapefruit tree in the yard too.  And theres a tree that produces light green, prickly-looking fruit.  I think maybe its called soursop, but Im not sure.  It looks like a green blow fish. 


My landlord, Mrs. Baldeh, is a former head-mistress of an all-girls school in Banjul.  She speaks impeccable English and, Ive heard, almost all of her children live in the US.  She rents out two apartments in her backyard--one to me and the other to a woman named Emma who is a former lecturer at the nursing school in Banjul.


The apartment is located in a neighborhood not far from the Peace Corps office or from the university (where Ill be working).  It should only take me about 10 minutes to walk to work. 


Speaking of work, tomorrow is my first day.  Im looking forward to actually having work to do.  Ive felt like Ive been on vacation for the past 3 months.  (Thats not a complaint though.  It was definitely wonderful.) 


Will write more updates again soon.  I promise to be better at updating this website now that Ill have more access to the internet. 

Friday, September 5, 2003 -- I'm back in the land of electricity, running water, flush toilets, and internet access!!!  Yahoo!!  You just can't imagine how exciting it is to be able to read by a light bulb instead of a flickering candle.  And it's really nice to be able to check my email and update this lovely little website.
I've been staying at the Peace Corps hostel because they don't have housing ready for us yet.  But we did get to see our houses yesterday.  I'll be living in a 2 bedroom apartment behind the house of a very nice Gambian family.  The apartment has decent sized living room with a bedroom off of that.  You have to walk outside to get to the other bedroom and the kitchen.  But it's very nice and I've excited to get moved in and stop living out of a suitcase.  I'll have the apartment to myself most of the time, but one of the other volunteers will be staying in the spare bedroom when she comes into the city. 
I'll be working at the University of the Gambia.  We stopped by the other day so that I could meet my counterparts.  They said that they are mainly interested in having me maintain their computer network and update their website.  Unfortunately I don't know anything about either of those.  But I will definitely learn a lot.  Another project that I'm going to be involved in is developing a database for the Department of State for Education.  I also don't know anything about databases. So it looks like I'll be learning a lot of new skills while I'm here. 
I'll add more later.  Please keep the letters coming!

Wednesday, August 13, 2003 --  One last time at the computer before heading back up country....I've gotten a few emails from people asking what I'd like in care here's my list...
*dried fruit
*good smelling soap from Bath & Body Works, Body Shop, etc.  (Lye soap has a smell that I just have acquired a taste for yet.)
*hand sanitizer
*Slim Jims (as if you guys didn't already know that one!)
*seasoning packets/sauce mixes/cake mixes/etc
*magazines (such as Cosmo, Wired, RealSimple, etc.)
*burnt CDs of new music
It usually takes about 3 weeks for a package to get here.  If you send food, please make sure the packaging is sealed well, then put it in another zip lock bag so that the mice can't chew through it.  And please ship by air because if you ship it by sea there's a very good chance that it won't get here before my 2 years of service are up.  The Peace Corps office just got a package that was sent by sea in 2000.  Thanks again to everyone who has sent me care packages and letters.  You guys are great! 
I guess that's about all for now.  I'll write more in a few weeks. 

Tuesday, August 12, 2003 -- Salaamalekum!  (That's arabic for "What up, my peeps?  Actually, it's Arabic for "May you have peace."  Whatever.)  It's a Muslim country so there are quite a few Arabic words liberally sprinkled throughout all of the local languages.
Thanks so much to everyone who's sent letters and packages and emails!  I haven't had a chance to respond to all of the emails, but I will get to them.  It might take a couple months, but I will.  (Note to Jennifer Tapley:  I didn't have a chance to reply tonight, but I will!)  And thanks for all of the messages in my guestbook!  They're all great....especially the ones about Jo-Pete and the ones from Mrs. Harris and Amanda's mom and Lee Martin and all of them.  You  guys rock!
Ahh, so onto news.  Training's going well.  I've been living and will continue to live for the next 5 weeks in a village midway up the country called Jenieri.  It has a population of about 600 people.  I am very fortunate to live with an awesome and rather wealthy family.  My father is the former chief of the district and current VP of the Red Cross for The Gambia.  He has 6 wives and 28 children.  There are about 40 people living in my compound.  I don't even know the names of all of this wives, much less the children.   There are 2 sets of twins and I can't keep them straight at all. 
I'm living in a round house with a thatched roof.  It has a metal corragate door and metal corrugate shutters on each of the 3 windows.  The hut's about 20 feet in diameter.  My backyard (aka bathroom) is cemented (which is a luxury because it keeps out lots of bugs) and fenced with concrete blocks.  Most people have bamboo fences which are filled with spiders, roaches, lizards, and tons of other odd creatures which are never fun to find at night.  I sleep under an army-green mosquito net to keep out all of the malaria-carrying mosquitos.  Overall it's a nice little house.
We got our assignments last week!!!  I'll be doing IT at the University of the Gambia.  I believe that means that I'll be managing the computer lab (which has 15 computers for 1,500 students) and teaching classes.  The university does not currently offer any computer classes.  So I'll also help them develop some classes -- mainly how to use Mircrosoft Word and Excel. 
So that means that I'll get to live here in Kombo (that's the Banjul area) which is great because this is where internet access is!  Yahoo!!!  And there's also electricity here "24 hours a day."  That means that power could be available any of the 24 hours in a day.  It definitely does not mean that there will be power every hour of the day.  In fact, there are many whole days in which there is no power at all.  And where there is power, it's often not full power.  So the computers reboot out of the blue, lights go dim, etc.  The water system functions about as well as the electricity. 
It will be great to have the luxuries of electricity and running water, but I'm sure that I will oftentimes wish for a water pump where I know I'll get water.  Speaking of water pumps....I'm carrying the water bucket on my head.  Yes, I am.  It's a sight to behold.  The children giggle, the women gawk.  Sometimes it splashes down on to me as I'm walking, but I'm getting the hang of it. 
There's a long line waiting for this computer.  I might not be able to get back to the computer until September.  So, write letters in the meantime. 
One more personal note....thank you so much Joan Tesch and all the Honeywellers.  I LOVED the birthday card and I just got the care package today.  I will definitely take pictures and send it back to you.  I'll try to get one of me with the bucket on my head.  :-)

Saturday, 7/12/03 -- One last update before I leave for my training village.  I don't think I'll have much access for the next few weeks.  Our training villages are up country about 3 hours.  We'll be living in a compound with a family.  Compounds are groups of houses surrounded by a fence.  One family per compound.  Men in the Gambia are allowed up to 4 wives, so compounds can get pretty big.  Peace Corps volunteers get their own house in the compound.  We also get our own showering area and our own latrine. 
Today we learned how to take a bucket bath.  You get a bucket filled with water; a cup to use to dump water on yourself; a bar of lye soap; and a piece of plastic mesh to use as a wash cloth.  They you scrub away.  I think it will take a little getting used to, but it's incredibly hot, humid, and dusty here so I'm sure my twice a day bathings will be very welcomed.
We also learned to eat out of the communal food bowl.   Four or five people sit on the ground around a big bowl and scoop food out with their right hands.  (Left hands are reserved for cleaning yourself.) That will definitely take some getting used to also.  You have to stick your fingers in your mouth to get all the food in and you lick your hands when they get too messy.  Pretty much the antitheses of what every American is taught when growing up.  We all agreed that it's every child's dream of dinner time.
And finally, we learned how to use the latrine.  I'll leave it to your imagination, but I'll say that you need really good balance.
I've been put in Mandinka classes.  It's the most widely spoken language in the Gambia.  And variations of Mandinka are spoken by about 11 million people throughout West Africa.
I still don't know where I'll be living or what I'll be doing, but I should find out in the next month or two.  Guess that's all for now.  Hope everyone's doing well.  Take care!

Thursday, July 10, 2003 -- I'm finally here!!!  After an excruciatingly long flight from DC to Brussels to Abidjan to Banjul, we finally set foot in The Gambia last night.  So far it's been great. 
Staging in DC was fun.  I got to meet the other volunteers.  We're all health, education, or information communication technology (ict).  There are 37 of us.  The youngest is 23 the oldest is 28.  Most are from Minnesota, Wisconson, and Colorado.  Ooo, before I girl (her name is Vickie) is from Cheboygan, WI, and know Chris Brickner, so be sure to pass that along to him.
While in DC I got to see the White House, the Washington monument, Lincoln, parts of the Smithsonian, the Vietnam Vetran's Memorial, etc.  That was awesome. 
What else?  The Gambia's great.  We're staying in the capital city until Sunday afternoon then we head to the villages that we'll be living in the for the next 3 mos. for training.  It's pretty hot here (same as FL), but it gets cooler in the evenings than in FL.  The humidity's the same during the day, but that's less at night too.  I've heard the weather will get worse though. 
I was assigned to be a math teacher, but during my interview today they told me they needed me to do information communication technology.  I'll be happy to do anything and one of the cool things about ICT is that you're normally placed somewhere that has electricity so that you power your computers.  Keep your fingers crossed b/c that would be really cool to have lights!
Well, there's a long line of people waiting to use the computer, so I'll try to write more later.  In the meantime, write me letters!!

Thursday, 6/19/03
Hi!  My address for my entire stay in the Gambia will be:
Kate Lester, PCV
U.S. Peace Corps
PO Box 582
Banjul, The Gambia
West Africa
From what I've read mail takes about 2 weeks to get to the Gambia from the US and a little more than 2 weeks to get from the Gambia to the US. 
And I know that I will absolutely love to get mail.  So write lots!  I promise to write back. 
I fly to DC for staging at the crack of dawn (well 7 am...but that's pretty much dawn for me) on Sunday, July 6th.  Then we leave for the Gambia on the evening of the 8th.  We have a short layover in Brussels so some of the volunteers are planning on doing a quick tour of Brussels while we're there.  Then we get into the Gambia late in the evening on the 9th.  From there I don't know what we're doing.  But I'll try to keep updating this page. 
Hope all's going well for everyone.  Can't wait to get letters and stuff from you guys.  (Also hope I don't receive hate mail from the SRIMU people if you found errors in any of my code....eeks!)