Monday, October 6, 2014

Readjusting and some other things

Leaving was the hardest thing I have ever had to do. I have been constructing, writing, deleting, and rewriting blog posts in my mind since left my village, through that process, I learned there are some things I wanted to share, other’s I didn’t. I’ve found some time to sit down and get some thoughts collected. But my brain wanders, so read it and take with you what you will.
I’ve noticed that few ‘returned’ volunteers post blogs. I wonder why, I wonder if it’s because it is all so fresh, raw and it, at least for me, sometimes hurts to think or talk about those I’ve left behind. Or because we really don’t understand anymore; we went to our countries with questions, only to discover more questions and to have fewer answers. The possibilities are limitless.
I’ve now been back in America for almost 5 months. And while my life here had become somewhat permanent, I feel like another countdown has just started to the next time I take a flight to live in another country; although I don't know what the countdown says.  Time passes much faster here, for one ‘resettling’ takes a lot of time, energy and emotion, and two, there is so much here to distract a person so that you realize you’ve been looking at your smart phone for 20 minutes to 2 hours and have done nothing. The speed of the day is so much faster, with a car and paved roads, I can check off a ‘to do’ list in a few hours that would have taken weeks or more in The Gambia. But it is not all that gleaming gold beam of light on the hill, and I knew that because I had come ‘home’ for 2 weeks during my service, but the mind place tricks on us when we’re laying on our thatched beds in our mud huts day dreaming about mocha lattes.

I’ve had so many people tell me, “wow, you must be so glad you’re home! Africa is such a dangerous place. Your mother must have been so worried.” Most days if I'm not feeling snarky, I take a deep breath, and explain that ‘yes, I am glad to see my ‘american family’ again, and sure it’s nice to take a hot shower, but Africa, my Africa, wasn’t a dangerous place, they were peaceful, friendly and the most welcoming people, laughing and shrugging off the big and little things. And most importantly I would give anything to be there for another day!’ (Most people would have stopped listening to me after the first part of that sentence.) Of course, while I was in Gambia, shrugging off the big things like having no food or money for several meals was a HUGE problem and it drove me crazy that they made light of it. But looking back, I realize why they did it. They saw the simple fact, that there was no food, and while they tried to solve the problem, where there were few solutions, they didn’t create this monumental verbal issue out of it because that would have made the problem and the stress all that much worse. And as to whether my mom was worried, you’ll have to ask her.

Africa dangerous…yeah the roads are can be pretty bad, and accidents happen, as they do everywhere. But in my short 5 months back, I’ve experience more victimization and ‘dangerous’ situations than I did in over two years there.  The only theft I experience there was when my wallet was sitting in the open cup holder of my backpack and someone sitting next to me on a gelle took my wallet, took the money out of it, and then RETURNED my wallet with my IDs (PC and Government) to my backpack. I lost some money, but they were kind enough to realize that the IDs weren’t worth anything to them and put them back. I recently moved to San Francisco and on my 4th day at a new job, I rode my road bike to work. Locked the bike on a bike rack outside (10 feet from the door) and by the time I left the building 9 hours later, it was gone. Someone had come over, cut the lock, and jumped over a cement barrier. If my bike had been stolen in my village, I would have 1.asked who had it and gone and gotten it back 2. Gone to the Alkahlo(village leader) and demanded that if my bike wasn’t back in a certain amount of time that I was going to call PC and have them remove me from my village and no PC volunteer would ever live in their village again, and their village would be shamed, disgraced (and any other word I could think of).  And chances are that I would have gotten my bike back. In San Francisco, that same tactic wouldn’t work, anyone I said that too would probably think I was a drug induced homeless person mumbling about stolen bikes.
I got back and realized that the readjustment allowance wasn’t going to go far and the number of mocha lattes were very limited. Plus, I was so overwhelmed by the amount of choices that decisions were very hard for me. There was a moment in a bagel shop about 2 weeks after being back, middle of NYC, 14 different types of bagels, 28 different types of cream cheese, a line of 35 people, and the AC was on so high that my 100 degree African legs were turning blue. I wanted to cry, I turned the ‘blinders’ on and made it through my order…barely. Even last weekend, I had to leave a shopping center because it was just all so overwhelming. And frankly, I’m ok with that, I would rather have it be a bit overwhelming and retain as much as Africa has given me, than to feel completely comfortable with such a ‘developed’ world.

I miss my ‘African’ family so much my heart physically aches. I have their photos everywhere but sometimes it hurts to look at them. I’ve called them a few times, and to hear Nymandi’s laughter, Isatou asking “Omar(Justin) le?”  Baboo laughing and protecting me by saying the rains are so great and then my older brother telling me that no the rains are slow… for even a few minutes is so incredible.  Earlier I had put home into quotations. Home has been redefined for me. It’s not so much of a physical place as I feel like I have a home in the heart of whoever loves me. And I’m so lucky to be loved and love so many people all over the world. When my mind drifts off into another place, it always lands with them.

I believe that Peace Corps forever changes the volunteer. I will never be the person I was before my service. I look back and some days, I don’t recognize the person I was two years ago, I don’t really remember her. Through the readjustment, I’ve learned that I need to be kind and patient to the person I was, the people that knew her, allow them to teach me again who she was and gently allow them to meet the new me. It’s a merging of identities and it’s not easy. But it’s rewarding, and few people have the chance to have the self-study that volunteers get, so it should be embraced challenges and all. And yet, I don't want to be that person I was, I'm much happier with the me I am now, how do I not let her slip away?

Life is hard in The Gambia; life is hard in America too, it’s hard in different ways. Most often, however, in America there are more available solutions to the difficulties, that’s why it seem ‘easier’. 

Thursday, May 1, 2014


full of fear that our strength was lost 
we started from rebirth 
our feet dirty, skin brown, hearts uneven 
we were challenged, broken down 
stripped bare 

left standing, the only ones, we thought 
we heard silence 
cried out, the drums answered 
training our hearts to the rhythm 
of Africa

we waited, searching, listening 
facing the universe, our ears awoke 
to witness the whispering of the world 
calling our strength awake 

reborn, our feet dirty, skin brown 
hearts beating in union with the drums 
our eyes tame, our cries of joy 
our ears full of the universes truth, 
whispering hope

Moments of pause

It gives me strength, almost unbelievable strength, to know that you are there. I covert your eyes, your ears, the collapsible space between us. How blessed we are to have each other? I am alive, and you are alive so we must fill the air with our words...All the while I will know you are there. How can I pretend that you do not exist? It would be almost impossible as you pretending that I do not exist. 
- What is the What?  David Eggars

The tears, when they come to come men, are worse than beatings. They're wounded worse by sobbing, men like that, than they are by boots and batons. Tears begin in the heart, but some of us deny the heart so often and for so long, that when it speaks we hear not one but a hundred sorrows in the heartbreak. We know that crying is a good and natural thing. We know that crying isn't a weakness, but a kind of strength. Still, the weeping rips us root by tangled root from the earth, and we crash like fallen trees when we cry.
- Shantarum Gregory David Roberts

To my mind, development is about giving hope to ordinary people that their children will live in a society that has caught up with the rest of the world. Take that hope away and the smart people will use their energies not to develop their society but to escape from it.
-Bottom Billion Paul Collier 

Love in Black and White

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!