Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The last of the day's

As of this morning, I have 17 more days till my COS car arrives. By that I mean, a Peace Corps car comes to my village in the very early morning, puts all of my dusty, dirty, well used and half disintegrated items into the car, I have a probably predicted very tearful goodbye with my moms, my siblings, my dad and a few well loved folks from village. I then am supposed to get into the car and drive away. I do not know if I will have the chance to return later in life, if it's at all possible, I don't know when it will happen, if the smaller kids will remember me, what their lives will look like then, what my life will look like at that point, what the village will be like (probably unchanged), if the garden will still be standing or used or if they will have continued any of the projects that I have worked alongside them to begin. But I do know that change here, at least, comes very very slowly. 

I really don't have even 17 more days in village, I have 12. I have paperwork to complete before I can get on a plane. I am heading to Justin's village this weekend so say my goodbye's to the Cham clan. And then back to TF. 

Everyone in village knows i'm leaving. I have had several requests to pack people into my luggage, which I thought was funny because we have that joke in the developed world too!! I bunch of people have straight up asked me to bring them to America, well lets be honest, that has happened every day for the last 764 days since my feet first touched the African soil. Nymandi has come into my room several times now, and laid beside me, asking me questions about what I'm going to do in America, where I am going to live, what or when I will have work, what programs (parties) will be happening upon my return, and where Omar will be. She always asks about Ndey, Aimee, my american parents, and Omar's big sister. Its like her last acts of comfort. She talks about hating me leaving, how lonely she will be, and well ....we have our moments of small talk and our moments of pure love. She is a mom after all. 

It's an odd feeling, to know that you are leaving and to not have left yet. The only thing I can compare it to at the moment is attending my own funeral. I will never truly experience that, but this is about as close as I would say it feels. It's depressing and somewhat frustrating. I'm a celebrator and although I am far from celebrating my leaving, this daily funeral feeling is getting me down.

Whatever the leaving day looks like, or the next two weeks of funeral like environment, or the coming years. I am proud, we have done work, we are a family, and the village has raised me. 

Sunday, March 9, 2014


My adorable 'bati' site mate, Shawn!, showed up and took a bunch of photos of the Garden. It is EXPLODING! The women are hard on the work, its a beautiful sight to see all the green in a land that right now is so brown.  They are working on spacing primarily, they like to plant things very close together thinking that more produce will grow, but that is not correct. They have planted lettuce, eggplant, carrot, onion, hot pepper, sweet pepper, tomatoes, okra, bitter tomatoes, and a bunch of random seeds that they get from local NGOs. The random seeds are surprises that appear in the garden, them calling me over to always ask what it is, so far I've seen things like Swiss chard and beets. They are confused by red lettuce, thinking that it was a weed, but were delighted that it tastes the same as green lettuce.  We have planted 16 citrus trees ranging from pomegranate to orange. I am in the process of having them plant moringa intensive beds, which is a bed of trees planted 10 cm apart, and then cut off at a meter high so they produce leaves like bushes. Moringa is a miracle food here, being very high in all nutrients and easy to grow. 

The garden is a little slice of heaven, but not without its problems. We have had problems with the well digger, but after hiring another one, I think we have solve that problem. The women are angry and jealous when some women grow food better than they can, but that's not a problem I am here to solve. We had a problem of people stealing each other's food, we now lock the garden in the middle of the day and overnight. Although this culture is very hospitable and always willing to give to guests, they are more stringent with one another and would rather give someone food than just have them take it. At this time of the year, things are becoming a bit more difficult with food availability and everyone's crop yields are running low. So the garden is an essential part to their food security and income generation. The women and children have been walking around to surrounding towns and selling some of their produce like tomatoes and okra. Making a few dalasi here and there to buy more rice, the staple food. There is also a new lumo (a weekly market) about 1k away, when the lumo is more established it will be a great place for the women to sell their produce, a larger market for a larger demand. Were so lucky!!

Explaining differences in lettuce

Using groundnut shells as soil protection, it helps the soil retain moisture and prevents weeds. 

All that green...

Carrying water, keeping the vegetables alive, women hard at work.

Shawn! also "Mariama Sowe" we've adopted her into Fatty Kunda.
She road her bike the entire length of the country!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Go to them...

Peace Corps Service, explained


As you have all read by now, Justin is the sweetest, kindest, and most gentle man. He is my greatest source of strength, breathing life and power into my heart, and thus into my work. He is honest, the garden is incredible, the women are all working so hard. The well has been mostly dry, only gaining ground and progress when we hired a second well digger (the first being simply a bad man). Carrying water all day on their heads is hard work. The women wake up at 5am, water till the well goes dry, wait for the taps to turn on with solar power, store water in pans in the shade, then water again from 4pm to 8pm. I help my family in the evening, and I am exhausted, my body is pushed to its limits, barely having enough energy to make dinner before crawling into my hay bed, literally 'hitting the hay.'  Progress is slowly, slowly coming. I am happy to leave behind a place where the families have a little more food, opportunity for income generation, and also just the simple hope for the future being brighter than the present. 

                             "How can you face the silence of the universe with only hope?" 

- this is a favorite quote of mine from a RADIOLAB podcast, something else that gets me through the days. I engraved the quote into the cement on my floor.  I can't yet answer where hope comes from, but we all have to find the strength to find, capture and hold that hope. 

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Guest Post: Justin W.

Before I get started I want to let everyone know this blog is not written by Sarah today.  I asked her permission to submit a blog on her behalf.  My name is Justin and I am Sarah’s boyfriend.  We met here in the Peace Corps and I really wanted the opportunity to express to you all, her readers, how impressed I am with her.  Sarah is not one to gloat but I feel the need as a proud boyfriend to do the job.  I intimately know her challenges and her successes, so I feel my words have some value when I say – Sarah is doing an amazing job with her women’s garden.  Before coming here I had in my head an image of what a Peace Corps volunteer was, and while that is a very idyllic image and many of us fall short , I believe Sarah is that very volunteer. 

I am so proud of her and her success with the garden and although it is not perfect, she meets every challenge like a seasoned pro.   Sarah sees her work as late coming and slow going.  I see it as Sarah shock hands and made friends for a year and a half building the respect and trust of a community. During that time she molded the right leaders to have a sustainable garden through patience and skill development. And she didnt stop when the fence was built but is out there every day watering and nursing seeds to life.  All good things take time and she took the time and that is why it is a good thing.

Cheers to Sarah and a job well done.  If you get a chance, congratulate her.   She will not except it out right like any humble person.  She knows the job is never done but the spark of encouragement will help her to know it has not gone unnoticed, because that all she really want as a person who tends to work in the back ground.

This is my recognizing you Sarah. Congratulation and a job well done!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

American turned Gambian

In September, I visited the homeland, the land of money and feno-feng (everything). AMERICA.  I had arrived to Gambia with the intention of not returning home until 2014, I thought it would be an unnecessary cultural and emotional challenge to become adapted to the Gambian lifestyle only to return home for a short time, to then come back and continue my service. Beside I am in another world, and there are worlds closer to me that I have yet to explore, so I thought I’d spend the cash on these closer lands. There have defiantly been moments in these almost 2 years now that if I had gone home, it is quite possible that I wouldn’t have returned to finish my service. Not because of the comfort of home but because of the challenges I run against here.  But I always rise to challenges, so perhaps I am underestimating myself and of course I would have come back. But life changes and I found myself welcoming an unexpected opportunity to return, see friends and family, and fill my belly.

My boyfriend, Justin was the best man in a wedding and he asked me to go with him. So as plus 1, we bought plane tickets and emailed lists of wished foods to have ready in refrigerators to the parents. We day dreamt of things we would see like sidewalks and sitting in cars that permit us our own personal space. We worried a bit about cultural shock and meeting one another’s friends and family. Then we packed the bags, bought lots of African gifts and flew to our other home. After a marathon of flying we landed in LA. For me, life was dizzy, whether you call it vertigo, or time change, life change, I don’t care. I was dizzy, the floor felt uneasy, but maybe I was just dehydrated and needed to drink an ORS.  I met family, ate fast food and passed out in the softest bed I can remember. The rest of the trip was something of a dream. I saw Justin in a suit for the first time; this man sure does look nice, very nice. I cried over how good cheddar cheese tasted, a full body sob and I embraced the cry.  I learned that margarita’s are even better than I remembered, thanks Nicole. I relearned that you can do more than one thing in a day, for example, I could go to the dentist office; go to men’s warehouse, make lunch, go shopping, and make dinner all in one day. The speed and ease of running errands, when you have a car, and everyone else acts according to the same speed is amazing. I danced like crazy and discovered that the humor I have here translated to the homeland.  That bagels and lox are a magical food and if I had them here my happiness level would be at least 60% higher, thanks Charlene. The wedding was beautiful and loving, and I didn’t feel as much in shock at the abundance of wealth as I thought. It was just a different world. And when I had hard moments, Justin and his family were there for me to lean on.

Ways I have changed:  Both Justin and I had lost the ability to find things; we thought various things had been stolen in our luggage. Nope we just didn’t know how to look for them. I attribute this to the lack of things I have here, it is either in my 1 tiny locker in Kombo or in my house. And I have 3 large shelves. If it isn’t there, it never was. The luggage was spread out upstairs and down, it just got lost too much.  Another surprise was that my senses were both heightened and dulled at the same time. My hearing is incredible. Justin and I are whisper champions; no one can hear anything we are saying. There was wind blowing in the tree leaves outside and I thought it was water boiling on the stove, because the sound of wind in tree leaves was foreign to me. My eyes have dulled, things are *&@*ing dirty in Africa, white walls are brown walls. When we were in stores, the extra bright lights shone off all the surfaces so it was like a reflection box, the white floors reflected to the super bright items on shelves which reflected back onto the ceiling, it was a bit blinding and made the world a bit dizzier.

At home, I met my family at the airport, I hid from them because I was a bit shy and overwhelmed. They were so excited to see me and kept saying how normal it felt to have me home. But for me it felt different and new. They have the same energy and family dynamics that they had before I left, and I had forgotten just how intense the energy can be sometimes. And sure I might look the same outside but inside has changed and those changes can’t be understood in a weeks’ time. The changes aren’t something that I can explain in a blog post, just that Africa changes you. So I took a deep breath and just jumped in … Mom cooked us more food than I could ever imagine. We went out for ice cream to a homemade ice cream stand, just laughed at everything. Going to target and grocery stores we bought food weighing 100 pounds to bring back to Africa with us. My sister is taller than I remembered, but just as silly. Dad didn’t enjoy watching a scary movie with us but the ending brought him back around. And we played board games.  It felt good to be home and with my family again but what I think has changed is the feeling that where ever my heart is happy I can make a home for my self..We traveled to 5 cities in 15 days and traversed the country, it was exhausting.

In the end Justin and I boarded the plane, I was licking soft serve vanilla ice cream out of a cup, (last chance to get food that isn’t available here) and apparently this is a weird thing to do because everyone was staring at me. Don’t judge, become in touch with your food. We were a bit crazy, trying to shoot off last minute text messages or call people and tell them that we love them. There simply wasn’t enough time. The wheels went up and I realized how lucky I am, I get to return to my home for another 8 months, and I am doing it all with my teammate, such a wonderful and kind man who I fall more in love with at every turn.

It is now 4 months later, and I’m glad I had the chance to return home. It was like a refuel. There are still challenges here and I still conquer them somehow. But I have a new outlook, that America isn’t the land of everything, there are different challenges and frustrations there and I have to work at having kaira (peace) wherever I am.  But with calm and a peace of mind I can conquer them. I still have moments where my heart is so heavy with sadness that my body feels like a brick. I feel odd somehow, that nothing here is new, there are no more surprises left, then something surprises me and I wish that there were no more surprises. With 5 months left, I am full throttle forward with the garden, which needs to have the well finished and then we start planting. I have murals to paint and a new project involving high school students selling purses to tourists. I have visitors coming and I can’t wait to share this world with them.