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Letters Home July 9-July 28, 1994

July 9th, 1994
Dear Robb and Parents

This is my first letter! July 9th, Saturday. Don't know if I'll finish today though.
Things you need to know:
1. Please keep all my letters so I can add them to my journal.
2. Please keep track of how often you write and number each letter so I know if I missed any.
3. Please don't forget to mail me kate's address.

OK, other news.
Training in Phili was good. I made a good friend, Jean. But now, in Africa, my roommate is Amy Lynn. She's pretty quiet. I became well known pretty quick. Our trainer asked why the ratio of AIDS in Africa was 10 women to 1 man. My answer "Because men are pigs and 1 infected man can infect many women because they sleep around."

So now everyone knows me and makes men comments. One boy, Ben, made a little news letter at he end of training highlighting the memorable moments. I was mentioned twice. 1 for memorable quotes and 1 for "Most likely to start a coup in a village and make myself a dictator".

So, basically I made lots of friends and think, so far, things are OK.

We had 4 groups with group leaders to get us through all the traveling / airports / customs. I was a group leader of group 3. You may be surprised to hear we all made it safe and sound.

Our first night we stayed at a nice hotel with good food and a pool. Next day, on to our training site which doubles as a resort. It's right on the river. I mean, my classroom.. the waves wash up and hit the front row. It's Right on the river.

Here are some main players in my life right now. So you can keep track who I'm talking about.
You know JEAN. And there's MARK from Omaha, Nebraska. he is super nice, very friendly, and liked by all. And there is ERIC whom I kind got a crush on. I guess I like most of the people, 36 in all. Most are young and white except 2 in their 40's, 2 black girls and 2 Middle Eastern looking men. We started as a group of 40, 1 didn't show and 3 were medically separated.

Oh, I ate barracuda for lunch and I sleep under a mosquito net. I've had 3 shots, I take malaria pills and well get more shots in the butt this week.

I am not supposed to write home about potential hazards and diseases. What is common here may freak you out so they don't want you to worry.

Next Day,

The weather is hot, hot and humid, humid, humid. I slept none last night. I sleep on a very thin cloth mattress on a cement bed under a mildewly mosquito net. I have many many bites. I also got another shot today.

Oh, we eat a little pineapple every day. And wow! I didn't know pineapple tasted so good and sweet. It is bright yellow and very mushy. The pineapple in the states is trash compared to this sweet fruit. We also eat mango and papaya.

Animals in the wild I have seen = monkeys, huge iguanas, lots of lizards, huge bugs from the cockroach family....

Oh, and Robb, now I know why you said "Join the Dark Side Luke" during the Lion King. James Earl Jones was the voice of Luke's dad! Duh! And Robb, jean and Ben are my "Buddy, Dude, Homey" friends. They both have the tape. And Mark, the guy I mentioned earlier loves those prank phone call guys!

I was put in my language group today. With Eric, Loretta (one of the black girls) and Jason. Jason is another great guy, reminds me of Robb. He is very attractive and at first I had preconceived notions about him. He has a fraternity tattoo and was on the swim team. He wore a suit and tie everyday. I thought he didn't belong. But as I got to know him I learned that when his parents divorced he and his mom went on welfare and he pretty much worked his way up to where he is now. And in the Peace Corps he can help others. He's so nice, funny and friendly. he doesn't act like a fraternity snot.

Right now I'm in a lecture about maintaining my health. Kinda scary, but I won't tell you about it.
Well I'm gonna end it here! I'll start a new letter soon! Take care and write me lots!
Salaam aleekum
love
wendy

July 14

Dear Peg,

You don't know how good it was to get your letter. I received it July 14, 9pm. And now 10 minutes later, I write you.

When mail was handed out (our first real mail delivery) I was sure I was not getting any (no anxious parents, no waiting boyfriend). I got your letter and my closest friend here (jean) got one. Everyone who got mail started skipping, singing and dancing. I would have been bummed had I not gotten one.

I was kinda not happy to be here at first, but I am slowly getting more strength and confidence. It is going to be harder living than I thought. Bathing with a bucket of water, going to the bathroom in a hole in the ground. All clothes must be ironed to kill tumba eggs that flies will drop on drying clothes. If eggs are in your clothes and you put the clothes on... the eggs go beneath your skin where worms mature like a maggot, for 10 days. And it must be painfully removed (Squeezed out)

I must collect my water from a well and add 5 drops of bleach per liter. You can't help but wonder, as you gulp your bleach water, "Is this bad for me?"

How? Yes!! But worse sooo humid. I am glazed with sweat 24/7. (24 hours a day, 7 days a week). I sleep under a mosquito net with doors shut, keeping out malaria, keeping in the heat.

But I tell you all that rough stuff (well some of it), made me want to pack it up. But... I am still here. getting happier everyday. Surrounded by 36 others in the same boat. (some cute guys!)

We stay at Tendaba camp which doubles as a "resort". I mean it has plumbing (toilets and showers), a disgusting pool (we swim everyday) and a full bar.

I have received many shots with many more togo. (including one in the butt!)
Food? I have eaten barracuda and warthog. We eat fish and rice everyday) I don't eat the catfish heads :)

I am excited about my job, but it is also more challenging then I expected. No paper, markers, nothing. We must gather paper scraps at the factory(?), use old packaging (cement bags) as paper, we are learning to make crayons. It is so poor here. There is supposedly 1 nice hotel in Banjul. I will check it out for my mom.

I have class Mon through Fri. Here is my schedule:
7-8 breakfast
8-10 class
10:30-12:30 class
1-2 lunch
2-3 break
3-3:30 coffee
3:30-5:30 class
6-7 Dinner
7-9 Class

My classes are Mandinka Language, Personal Language, Culture, education (Resource teaching)
And we go into a nearby village where we have a family. My family is "Deba". I have not met the head of the household but his wives, sisters, daughters, grandchildren, brother. They all live together in a compound with dogs, hens, roosters, donkeys, and goats. (I did not know goats came this small.

So I get dropped off in this village, the children pick me up and walk me to the compound where we sit and stare at each other because they know no English. And, well, I don't speak fluent Mandinka, very awkward. I really need to study this weekend so I can speak a little more.

Well the Peace Corps people are cool. We had a sex talk (me, 2 girls and 2 guys) and all of us had done a 3 some or more. That's kinda rare. 5 out of 5. Tells you something. And all the girls had been with girls. I have a little crush on a guy named Eric, but I'm about over it.

Please do me a favor. Save my letters so I can make a copy and use it as a journal (as I'm not keeping one). And also number your letters so if I get 1,2 and 4 I know that 3 got lost somewhere. You can check with my brother to read other letters to get a total sense of how my life is, ok? I will write you again soon. And don't worry. I'm OK. PS Tell Bear Dog "HI" for me. I love you. Salaam aleekum
wendy

July 19, 1994

Dear Robb and Family,

I am worried that you did not receive my first letter. I have put the wrong postage on all of my letters. So let me reiterate...

Please number all your letters as you send them so I will know when I miss one.

What can I tell you? Well, Saturday we had a naming ceremony. This is when a 1 week old baby gets it's name. Since we had been here one week, we were named. We dressed in Gambian dress and the main guy pretended to shave our hair (That is what they do to the babies). My name is Jaraa Deba. My father is Dimba Deba. I have 4 mothers . We celebrated with speeches, donuts and juice and dancing. I am thinking about if someone can come visit. (Robb, if anyone would like to do mission work here next summer. I can help him establish connections).

Sometimes I feel like I'm just biding time, just existing. I hope after training I feel like I have a purpose.

I didn't realize how primitive things are here. As a resource teacher, not only do I have to make visual aids (say.. a mobile) but I must make the string, make the glue, make the crayons, writing utensils and ink and paper! AHH!! 3 day project for one small mobile.

Anyways, I haven't been sick yet. I have a little blister on my lip, butt hat's it. (Sorry, had to run to the bathroom, so I guess I've been sick once.) no big deal.

I gotta go but write me! Think about visiting! Please save all my letters so I can use them as a journal when I get home. OK?
Love, Jaraa Deba

PS. My friends are getting packages. I really need bug spray (off skintastic), rubbing alcohol, cotton balls. That's a major hint. If you want to be real nice I would love a small battery powered fan.
love wendy

July 20

Dear Grandpa and Grandma,

How are you? I am hot and sticky 24 hours a day. We have what we call "A permanent glaze" of sweat on our skin.

My days are quite full. I awake at 6:15 to shower and wash a couple pieces of clothes. Breakfast from 7-7:45. Community meeting until 8am. At 8 I have a 2 hour class
1-10:30 Tea Time
10:30 - 12:30 class
1-2 lunch
2-3 break
3-3:30 tea
3:30-5:30 class
6-7 Dinner
7-9 Class

We have electricity after dark. After last class we practice language or swim. I work hard on language because I'm not so good.

please keep all my letter so I can use them as a journal when I get home. I am numbering every letter. So if you get letters 1,2,4,5,7, then you know letters 3 and 6 got lost somehow. Please do the same and number yours.

There is a lot of good fishing here. We eat a lot of fish, at least once a day. There are 36 volunteers. But 2 more might be coming. Actually 1 for sure. 1 was medically separated in Philadelphia, but may be allowed to come after all.

My classroom is on the water and I sit and watch the crabs wave and the tide is coming in. It is not a classroom, but a shelter.

My health is good. No dysentery (yet) only huge and many mosquito bites! :) I miss you and I miss home, but I know I must do this.

Please don't send and packages (tell my family too). It is too expensive for me to get them out of customs. But I hope I get letters.

What I wish I had brought ... bug spray, battery fan and drink mix!

NEW DAY
Today we went to the nearby village to meet our "family". We visit these families and practice speaking Mandinka. It is kind of weird since right now I don't know more than 6 lines. but I hope things get better.
Anyway, I must go now. I love you! Take care! Write me!
Love Wendy

July 22

Dear Dad and Robb (and family),

I am writing to say I am OK. By the time you read this, the trouble will be past. Today, July 22, there is a little disturbance in Banjul. the army has gone one strike. But it is no big deal. I am far from there in a rural area and the disturbance does not touch me. I am just telling you about it in case you have heard about it in the press. So, don't worry about it.

The stamps. the blue sheet is for Dad and the Pink sheet is for me. Please put it somewhere safe for me.

So, things are going well. I am enjoying my stay, but we work harder every day. They have extended our work week to 6 days a week from 8 am to 9 pm. there is no time for relax time to get tasks done. Plus they schedule optional work sessions on Sunday. which I would like to do (This week it is building a pump well system). I want to attend but it is so early in the morning and all day. Is this how I want to spend my day off?

I have decided on what village I want to live and work at. It is called Illiasa. There is already an agro/forestry volunteer named Bill there. So this is my wish. I guess you will see in my future letters if my wish comes true. (P.S. the reason I want this village is NOT Bill).

Robb, I have a big favor, forget the alcohol and cotton balls. I need 3 books. I am going to be running an Environmental Resource Center and I don't know much about Environmental Education. I have 3 books. 2 should be easy to find. They were in a pile I wanted to bring but didn't have the room. So they should be in a pile in the basement. (Check near Elvis). If you can't find them, they may be with the 3rd book. Which is in my box of books in the far back corner of the crawl space. (With my photo albums). The books are all environmental ed. books. :PROJECT WILD, PROJECT AQUATIC and PROJECT LEARNING TREE.
mail them at book rate NOT AIR MAIL. It will be cheapest that way.

Robb, did you get that tattoo filled? Did it hurt? Write me!

July 25

Dear Peg,

Hello my best friend! How are you today? Me, same old, same old. I guess today was fairly exciting. For starters the army went on strike and captured the capital. The President has fled. But it is no big deal really and doesn't affect me except that all the international phone lines have been cut. I plan on calling my parents when this is all over. you should never worry when you hear of disturbances in Banjul. (The capital). I am far removed from the area. No one comes where I am. (Tendaba Camp, Kwinella).

Today was also my 1st day working in the nakko (garden). I pounded cow dung, dug holes, planted seeds, raked. had a good old time. And very important, it rained. It is the rainy season but it never rains! They crops are dying and the people are hungry. And today it rained!

And last night I spent a long time alone with Eric (the guy I totally had a crush on)) I can't tell what's up with him. We were real close but no kiss. maybe tonight. But never fail, I have a back-up plan.

There is a cute alcoholic boy they call "Billy Two Buckets". (He walks like he is carrying 2 buckets of water). I have requested to be in his village and he has requested the same. (He is starting his 2nd year) He built a resource center because he is lonely and horney. So I am his new toy. So if Eric doesn't work out I have Billy. I'll keep you updated.

How is Bear Dog? And how is school? Do you miss me horribly? I've lost 10 lbs but it is not noticeable since I gained 15 lbs before I came here:) But Billy insists I will gain weight. We actually have a bet. He says he will put me on a scale the day I swear in and weigh me again before he goes home next year. If I have lost, he pays for a night to get me wasted. If I gain, besides being very, very upset, I have to get him wasted.

He lost 35 lbs this year (all muscle). But he's still a muscle head. not much else to say except the mosquitoes are eating me alive and so far I am here to stay. I hear out at site there are times you want to pack it in. I will have to spend on 2-Buckets to give me the motivation to stay. But so far I'm psyched and happily planning my 5 year future. (I am definitely coming home after 2 years.) I also really want to go to Egypt. What are the odds of you coming? If you're not coming, I'll go next summer. But I hope you will come in 2 years. Write and let me know.
your Friend
Jarra Diba
(If I didn't tell you this is my Gambian Name. I've been adopted.)

JULY 25

Dear Mom, Robb

I had a really weird dream last night. I was home and it was Christmas. Dad and I were talking and arguing. I looked out the front door and our yard was full of the most awesome X-mass decorating ever. Later mom and I were trying to walk up Palmer but the roads were too slippery to walk. So we turned around to walk home. But it was too slippery. So i took a running start to slide home. Mom was freaking, afraid I would get hurt. But it was OK. we started walking down Tulip Way. Our house was the only one decorated and I felt bad about arguing with Dad when he made this beautiful yard. Then I thought of a conversation I had with him before I left for Africa. I turned to Mom and said "Momma, this is a dream, isn't it? I'm still in Africa." And she nodded her head yes. She came towards me, put her arms around me and tried to push my large pack back off my shoulders. She told me to get rid of this Africa stuff. I told her not to knock my bag off me.
Then she was gone and Robb was there with his red Bug. I knew I was fading, waking up. And I wanted Robb to stay with me. But he wouldn't. He said not to worry, he was nearby. I asked him to call me in the morning. He relented. i woke up.

OK! Like you care. I just want you to keep this for my journal. And to let you know I am OK. No troubles. I explain a lot in a letter to Dad regarding what happened politically here. But I am safe. But by the time this letter finds you, you already know that, I think.

July 28

Well, I called you and you didn't even know about the coup. So you weren't very worried. When I got back to camp, there was your letter waiting for me. (The one with the book in it). Thanks.
And no. Dad doesn't know about the missing money. (Well, by now he does). I withdrew $850 to pay off debts and such. Nothing I can really say except I plan to put the money back at some point in the next 5 years.

It was great to get a card. My roommate "Jean" is not my roommate. But she is still my best friend here. many people call me Jean and call her Wendy because we are always together and we have a lot in common physically (except my boobs are bigger, of course!) My roommate is Amy Lynn. She is a great roommate. She is very quiet and she let's me keep my stuff all over our room. I gotta go. I hope you are passing my letters around and telling people to write me. (Thanks for Kate's address)
Love, Wendy

PS send me Robb's new Miami address and I can't call Grandma at Thanksgiving because I can only call home with the calling card. What should I do?

July 28, 1999

Peg,
Well, The military strike turned out to be a coup. Now we have a new President. But no worries.
On the personal front... Eric and I are just friends. however. His roommate Jason is the best looking guy here The guy I NEVER had a chance with. Well, the night after me and Erik got close and had a talk... I had sex with Jason. i couldn't believe it! I was freaking! About 40 yards from a part where everyone was partying and dancing. We were outside, standing up. He is a babe! Gotta go! Miss You! Write me!

Not much to add except it's finally raining, so food is finally growing. My legs are devoured by bug bites. My friend Mark almost had his finger amputated. He got an infection that crystallized and had to be dug out. We were worried that it had gotten inside the bone. Well, it looks gross. he has lots of pain plus fever and throwing up. But he is recovering. I am very happy!
Oh, did I tell you I have planned my next 5 years?
Jaraa Dibba



July 28 - August

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