September 1994

Sept 8, 1994
Hi. Yes, I've gotten 2 letters from you here. It's getting down to the wire here. One week from today I'll be in the capitol preparing to swear in to active duty. I am ready and kinda nervous.

I am hoping to take one of my bags to site this Sunday. I'll tell you how it goes (probably later in this letter). I can only send out mail twice a month, so every letter I write will be written over a 2 week period.

training is slowing down and we're all slacking off. I finished teaching Model School yesterday. Monday I give an exam and Tuesday we have a little "graduation" party for students.

We are practicing a song, in Mandinkan, that we will sing at the swearing in party. Many Gambian and US officials will be there. I've already me the US ambassador. I also sat with the old Vice President. Just met him and his guards (and kids). But after the coup... he is no more. But I've met the new minister of Region 2 and the Educational Minister.

Sept 10, 1994, Saturday

Gosh, it's hot. I can't wait to get to Banjul. We go Thursday. I've packed half my stuff and they packed up our resource center this morning. Things are closing down.

Jean's doing good. We got a house down country but she has to bring that dumb cat. (She named it Duff. It means "stupid" in Wolof). I just bought stamps so I will mail this off. You will here from me again in a month. Until then appreciate all the food you can. I miss good food soooo much!


Sept 11, 1994 (Sunday) *This is the 2nd part of a letter from August*

Dear Peg,
Sorry man, it's me again (Duh!) Still on scrap paper ... sorry or "moss" as we say in Mandinka :) What's up? I'm do glad you write me. If I ever get mail I can pretty much count on that it comes from you!

Yesterday, well I got butt wasted on an empty stomach. I had 8 Yeigermisters, 1 Kalvana and 3 beers. Wow! Wasted! Then I had to wake at 7:30 and I was off to Ferefini. I took half my stuff to site so I wouldn't have to lug it all at once. I caught a ride with the people going to the market so I had to sit at the market all day. HOT! Sweating, sunburned! I was SO dehydrated! I drank liquids all day. The trip left at 9am and we got back at 4:30. I'm so beat and finally starting to get sick (it all just caught up to me!)

But I'm staying awake. I'm supposed to play backgammon with Eric at 9:30. Our relationships mostly finished. It is now friendship only. We just don't have the same... values I guess. Not enough to maintain romance. (Sorry about the red ink! My pen died!)

It is on long bus rides like today when I miss everyone and wish you'all came to visit. I think of the little things I want to tell you. Like: gravel = shells. I mean anything you would use gravel for, they use shells here. When I'm walking down paths at camp, I'm crunching seashells, not gravel. And did I tell you about the facial scars? There are different types. 2 scars on the sides of the eyes are Senegalese tribal marks and 3 under the eye are for beauty, like we have tattoos.

This must be one of the most messed up letters you've ever received. I don't know! It's tedious to write all the little things out! But I love when you ask questions! It gives me focus when I write. Obviously this letter lacks major focus! Um, I am anxiously awaiting swearing in. Only 5 more days! Tomorrow I give the final exam at school. Tuesday is kids graduation. Wednesday is a Luau (Lou-ow!) party. Thursday we go to the capital. Friday - swear in. And we must be at site by Sunday. I don't have much more to say but I want to mail this letter off today and I want to fill all the empty space before I mail it off. Did I mention I think I want to go into Adult Education when I get back to the states! Which reminds me, once again I have a favor. I want to apply to a couple places but I need an American liaison. Because I can not type requests and make things professional. Plus, perspective employers do not want to spend money mailing shit overseas. So... can you do me a favor?

Peg, I am running low on paper from session. Sorry. It is pitiful compared to your neat Ohio State stationary!

Could you type them a letter for me. (Whenever you have time). I got the address out of a Peace Corps magazine. I want to see if they can hook me up with a Montessori job in NE Ohio. But I'm not sure if there a training school or what. You can explain in the letter, who you are or you can write as me... I don't care. But when you get a reply if they can't hook me up , forget it. I am looking for the 96-97 school year. And if you hear of any positions back home for 96-97, pass me the info please (Talk about pre-planning!) Thanks and don't rush on it. Just whenever! I LOVE YOU!

Sept 16, 1994


It's nice to see our friendship growing stronger instead of falling apart. I think I've "talked" to you more now then in the last 4 years combined!

Your tap dance teacher sounds like an idiot. But I know once you find the groove you'll be awesome. Dancing's in your blood or SOMETHING!

Is the dress at site more traditional? Well, no. Well wait. On a daily basis around the compound or village women wear a T-shirt or tank top (lot's of Chicago Bulls) and a fanno (a wrap around skirt). Little girls wear fannos and SOMETIMES a top. Babies are naked or wear a top or shorts (hardly ever both). Young boys wear shorts, sometimes shirts. Men are the most traditional with hats (sometimes traditional sometimes KNIT. Yes it IS 90 degrees why don't you put on that knit hat with the ball on top!) Their shirts are long (past the knees) and the pants are cool, the crotch is below the knee. Lot's of "breathing room" if you get my drift.
When you leave the village, the men dress the same but the women wear dresses and head wraps. The dresses look like cheesy costumes, not African wear. It is hard to explain. I guess I'd better take some pictures! Can't say "photo" here. "Photo" means 'penis' in Mandinkan!)

Andy & Beth are cured. No scars. (Which is good because look wise they are the king & queen of beauty in our group. They're not vain or anything. They are simply the best looking.) It was just a strep virus on the outside of their neck.

I'm glad your taking and Africa class. Keeps me in your mind!

Last nite I slept at Jobekunda (That's the Jobe family compound). Since I had another late nite bush cat attack in the house I am too afraid to be in here alone after nite fall. I thought it would be freaky sleeping with Gambians but it was the best nite's sleep I have gotten since training.

Wow! I just looked up and, last night a set my bag on a table one foot from the bed. Now I look up and see a HUGE (3 feet) spider web using the bag and the bed as base points. It looks like no one has been in the room in months when in fact I cleaned the entire house yesterday and just set

Sept 18, 1994
Dear Everyone,

Hey, Mom, I wrote you a long letter in my journal and I left my journal at Tendaba. I am sad. And I hope(but doubt) I will get it back.

So, anyway. I'm a Peace Corps Volunteer! Thursday we packed up and left Tendaba. It was sad. I said "Good-bye" to my Kwinella family and cried.

We arrived at out old hotel from our first night in The Gambia. I roamed with Jean again. We all ate dinner at Wayne's house (The Head Peace Corps Person here, the Big Boss). Then Eric and I went to the Embassy and watched the movie "Wrestling Earnest Hemingway". I think Dad might like that movie (maybe!)

The next day we swore in at the Ambassador's house. His place is beautiful! Paradise overlooking the ocean! Wow! (Why didn't I take a photo?!) That night we had a huge party and I danced my pants off! I even "moshed" (ask around to your students to find out what that means). Eric and I had a nice night. I will miss him.

Yesterday Eric and I just hung out, swam in the ocean, I got flashed by a young man.
At night we walked to town to get pizza and got lost. We walked forever! We finally caught a ride. Pizza was good. Eric lost at backgammon and had to treat me to ice cream.

Today was a hard, sad day. First Amy left, then Mike, then Eric, and finally I left Jean. I cried again even though I'll see them (hopefully) Halloween.

Bill didn't want to go to site until tomorrow. So I went shopping and spent lots of money on a little food. My money runs like water in Kombo. Pizza is 50D!

I found my Down County House names "The Power 10". It is ½ nice and ½ not so nice. But there is electricity, running water, a fridge. I've been cleaning my room all. Day. (If you can call it that.) Usually people throw a foam mattress down on the floor in the main room where there is a ceiling fan and crash there. There is no real assigned beds or anything. Just rooms to keep some clothes. I share my room with Jean, Eric, and Ted and maybe one more person. (Amy?) But we don't all come down at the same time so I don't know when I will see them. Although Ted is here now!
Brian (a 1 year) and Sharon are in the kitchen cooking.
I told Eric if he visited me at site I would slaughter a chicken, pluck it and cook it. Think I can do it?

Tomorrow I go to site, kinda scary, but with all of my friends gone, I'm ready to go.

I've said this before, you don't have to send me anything, but if your wondering what I might like, today's wish is a new 5 subject notebook to replace the journal I lost. And I will put up all cards and cute things you send, on my walls at site and here. So you can send any funny cartoons or whatever. I put all that for decoration and a sense of home.

Man, now that I've sworn in, I'm here for the duration. 2 years! Can't quit now, and can't get kicked out. Sometimes I think there must be a glaring absence with me not there, but then I realize I've only been gone a summer and I'm usually gone for the summer anyways. It probably wasn't so weird for you . It sure has been different for me!

I am sweating and stinking! (Oh, deodorant, Sure Solid, would be a great idea! You are probably getting into windbreaker season. Your so lucky! Oh yeah! Ted just reminded me, we are supposed to write home for the Christmas gift of tire tubing 26" for a mountain bike, plus a rack and bottle and riding gloves. Bike is our main mode of transport and you can't get those things here. But I'll survive without it. Don't do it unless you want to.

I got word 2 weeks ago that there is a package here for me, but the package guy is on vacation so I haven't gotten it yet. I don't know who it is from or what it is. But I paid my 5D to get it out of package prison and still I have to wait.

I found out there is a 5 star hotel here and tourist things to do so... If mom did want to visit she would be comfortable with good food, air conditioning and toilets! Today I met a lady named Nancy who works for USAID. Her house is awesome! Mahogany furniture, air-con, oriental carpets, TV with cable, armed guard on the premise, Big fluffy, tasteful couches. Mom would the love the decorations!

I am writing to you on a notebook I scavenged . 6 people just moved out of this house leaving behind food, books, tapes, clothes and misc. Since I was cleaning I got first dibs on all stuff. I got lot's of material to get clothes made and some notebooks. Oh... I would also love some X-tra thick OB Tampons. The kind in the yellow box. Well, I gotta go. I hope I'll get this mailed out tomorrow. Dinner smells good and I haven't eaten in a long time.

Sept 20
Well, I didn't mail this down country so it must wait another week. Right now I'm at site, staying in Bill's house. God it's cramped! I hope we don't kill each other! I've begun cooking for myself. So yesterday I had bread and 1 can of beans. Today I made one glass of powdered milk. I better learn to cook before I waste away to nothing.

Baa and Ringo (Bill's cats) have gotten so big since last I was here. Baa was attacked by a dog this month and is very nervous. He moves slow.

Today we are going to Farafini to price furniture and buy sheets, food, stamps and I don't know! Busy. Also my resource center was broken into twice last month. I've gotta check out the damage.

Sept 22, (Wednesday)
I will finish this letter and get it in an envelop! Today I talked to the mason and the “plumber" (we don't have plumbing, he digs pit latrines) they are working on my house right now. I can't wait until it is finished! I did have a sad thing happen. I met a beautiful blue eyed African boy around 11. He was angelic with those eyes. I fell in love and was thinking of all the ways I could help him succeed in school and in life. Yesterday I went looking for him and the people tell me, after I left him to go home he died. I don't know why but Bill thinks it may have been Malaria. I was so sad. He was so handsome and shy and he's gone. It was a sad day.

I miss you! Write soon. I'm gonna write grandma and pa now!

Love Jarra Diba
PS When is Robb gonna write! He doesn't love me anymore.

Sept 22, 1994

Do you want to smack me for calling last night? Hopefully by the time you get this letter you will have forgive me! :) next time I will pay for the call. I have to give you my new phone number's. I have one Down Country and one at site. The one I gave you on the phone is for Bill's place and I will only be there until, like Oct 25. Actually, Oct 20th I am going Down Country until the 24th. My house should be done by then. It is amazing how work gets done around here. Today I got a translator and talked to the mason, latrine digger and carpenter. It is now 3pm and they have built 3 windows and extended 2 others. The pit latrine people have gone to buy materials and will set concrete by dusk! Wow! It takes 2 weeks just to get an estimate back home.
The windows cost me 80D. The toilet=200D (including materials). The carpenter is measuring right now and I will buy materials tomorrow. (Conversion rate $10 = 180D)

Right now I am listening to the BBC. That is when I feel the most isolated. I hear English voices talking about politics and I realize how alone I am. I always want to talk to the radio guy. And I think of all the ex-patriots everywhere, relying on the short wave radio to keep abreast of our own lands. You gotta be pretty lonely to listen to this crap!

I'm glad you and Barry are happy! (Are you still?) I'm still bonded to Eric but I am liking a dude names Larry. He says he will visit next week. I'll let you know what happens!

Well, the carpenter just left. He is getting 200D plus I have to go to town tomorrow and buy all the materials. Have I mentioned I'm hot and sweaty? :)

This morning 2 boys came to the house selling shrimp. I bought a kilo. Spent an hour cleaning and cooking um. Guess it was worth it :) Last time I was on the scale I had dropped 21 pounds. It is probably a little more now.

I guess this is good-bye. Can't wait for that next letter :)

Jara Diba
PS I couldn't find your school address. I haven't unpacked it yet. Sorry.

Sept 24, 1994

Wow! Thanks! Yesterday was Mail Run and I finally got your package of Crystal Lite! Thanks! The Cranberry and Raspberry Tea are great. I'm drinking it right now! Today is one of those days I think about home and how different life is there.

I wanted to eat earlier but we were out of matches. I was scavenging forever to find a way to make sparks. I eventually gave up. I figure I eat later. I usually eat once or twice a day anyway. Finally at 2:30 Lamin brought food to the house and I sent him to get matches. I then tried to get protein by picking meat off the one fish Bill got in his lunch. It is a very small fish cooked whole, with eyes and gills and all. I picked off what I could and gave the head to the cats. They eat less Gambian food now then 11 weeks ago. We all eat as many calories as possible. I even eat the tuna fish oil. It is so good. (I brought tuna from the states) and drink the syrup from the canned fruit. However I've still lost 23 lbs and still dropping. The nurse is a little worried but we're giving it a couple of months to level off. Bill, my roommate, has lost 45 lbs this past year

Another things so different from the states is... Guess you’d call it food hygiene. After cooking and eating I rinse plates, pots, and silverware with water and use my hand or a dirty towel to rub off the dirt, then put the pots back on the floor to await the next meal. All the Tupperware is Mildewed, including the Kool-Aid pitcher. At home, well, this would be totally unacceptable, but here... There is not a lot of options. It is harder to stay clean here and the drop in sanitation in natural in this culture and environment.

On other news, my house is coming along. I went to town yesterday and bought wood, nails, screen, but I ran out of money. I will go again tomorrow to get molding plus more food! I've go enough Crystal Lite for a while!

School starts Monday (2 days away) and as I wonder what I will wear and how to get the wrinkles out I realize I have not seen a mirror since I swore in on Sept 17. That was a week ago. Wonder who I look!? I know my hair is growing!

Bill is not here with me. He took his bike and went to visit Ted. I am lucky to be here with Bill. Other volunteers are all alone. Bill has been checking up on them all, making sure they are OK. And they are. Some of my friends have electricity and fans! Sometimes I get jealous!

I haven't heard from Robbie. Can you send me his address and phone number?
I am still confused with what I will do when I get out of here. I will take the GRE in a couple of months. I am looking into Grad schools, International Careers, teaching in N.E.Ohio and nursing school! Something will work out.

Did you know my boyfriends here is a Notre Dame graduate. He played rugby. He's super nice like Robbie, but I don't know if we will last for 2 years. We are very far apart and will see each other once every 1 or 2 months!

Oh well... Things are going OK. I'm getting 2 kittens soon (I hope) and I'm still alive (for now!)
Thanks for the letters and the Crystal Lite! It means a lot!

Sept 27, 1994
Dear Mom!

Hi! Thanks! I received your package Sept 23 in my first mail run to come to site. I loved the hair stuff. I am wearing the Mickey Mouse right now in a pony tale on the top of my head. About half of my hair is in it. Plus the paper and Crystal Light. It was all great. I got a package from Dad and a letter from Brandy. (Still no Robb)

So, today is Tuesday, yesterday was the big day. 1st bill left me for about 3 ½ weeks and it was the first day of school. So let's review my day:
I awoke at 7:30 am and Bill left. He sent the Headmaster by to see me. (The Headmaster has been away and we had not gotten together yet). Headmaster Fadora told me to be at school by 8:20. So I was. I walk there, it is a 4 minute walk. But it was not really in session. The students moved furniture from storage into classrooms. They finished in 40 minutes and spent the morning watching me stain the resource center furniture. At noon I realized I needed a drink. I walked home, had some Crystal Lite and went back to school. Most of the students had gone because I left. There were just 5 girls from grade 3 with minimal English skills. I stained the bookshelves and they helped me move books. After another 1 ½ hours, I locked up and I checked on my house. The carpenter was there and was complaining about stuff I had not bought yet. I asked him to go with me the next day to Farafini. He wanted to go right then which it is kind of a big deal. A trip to Farafini is best done early in the morning. I didn't think we’d ever catch a taxi, but I agreed. Luckily it rained real hard giving me time to finally eat something. I mad eggplant in oil with garlic and tomato paste over pasta. The eggplant is cooked until really mushy and mushed into the sauce. It turns out this dish I "invented" is a native Indian dish!
Anyway, we still left for Farafini. A bush taxi came by pretty full, but we jumped on, I had to sit on the back gate. It is like sitting on the back gate of a pick-up truck. I was smiling thinking how freaked you would probably be. But it is the normal mode of transportation here!

So we get there, find the shop, but we needed wood cut and the cutter was gone for the day. The carpenter told the man what I wanted and I sent him home. I stayed in Farafini overnight (Abhijit, my friend is stationed there). So my first night alone, wasn't. I stayed with Abhijit.

We ran into 2 boys from the Peace Corps, Senegal. They were in Farafini for the dentist. He is the dentist for both countries. They had to visit Kombo (Down Country) and gave us news of other friends. We went to eat together. (I had meat and onion sandwich) and we played cards. Abhijit has a nice house (well, not really) but it does have electricity at night. He has a fan! We stayed up gossiping all night.

So, morning came. I rushed to get my wood and foolishly did not buy food or kerosene. (Luckily I remembered toilet paper). But now I am out of food until Sunday. (I go to Farafini every Sunday). There is a market and all the volunteers in an 90 minute radius visit. Tomorrow I will ask Bill's guardian for some rice. They are required to feed me when I ask because Bill pays for 3 meals a day.

I spent the rest of the day reading, getting my stuff together and napping. Tomorrow I will white wash the center.

I am going to try and remember to take paper and a pen with me when I travel because that is the time I always think about what I want to write.

Like about the African sky. The clouds and sunsets are amazing, unlike anything at home (though I don't know why). Bill says come the dry season (very soon, couple more weeks) I will not see another cloud, ever, until next July. When there are no clouds, the moon shines so bright you can see as if it were day.

It is weird to know this letter will not be sent out until the next mail run (Oct 14) and I will not get any mail until then either. It is lonely. But Abhijit will visit me next Friday and Larry may stop by this week. Plus, one boy who ET'd (Early Terminated) gave me his short wave radio. So I can listen to the BBC. I enjoy that. I feel connected to "people" that way. All this Mandinkan is driving me nuts :)

Abhijit has found some kittens and is giving me them both after they are weaned. How is Mike?!

I end my letter here but I will probably write another one before mail run! Now is the time it is important to number your letters! I will number mine by batch. So this is #1 of October batch. And my gift wish list is powdered sauces for pastas or rice and a tone of AA batteries. (The short wave takes 6!) But like always don't worry about it unless you are in the mood. Please tell Grandma, Grandpa and Robb I love them and share my letter with Dad.

PS the carpenter told me I must return to Farafini again tomorrow. 7 out of 10 days! Geez!

Sept 30, 1994
Hi Dad!

What's up? Me? Well, Bill left for America for 3 weeks vacation leaning me and the cats alone. I have spent the week going to town to buying wood and materials for my house, working with the workmen, staining furniture, white washing the resource center, dusting the books and trying to get them in some kind of order. Sounds like a lot of work, but not really. Just a couple of hours a day.

2 nights ago a stray cat snuck into the house and got into a terrible row with one of the kittens. I took my poor, wounded baby to Farafini to get her patched up. We spent the night at Abhijit's (fellow volunteer) and made the trip back today. Now I must watch for rabies. Abhijit is going to Kombo this weekend and will bring me the rabies vaccination for the kitties (which I will have to administer myself!) The kitties and I are still a little shell shocked. When we here noises we jump. We're "nervous" is the word. I am taking steps to prevent another intrusion. However, I do have bats that live on the bedroom ceiling. They don't bother me much. They just poop on the wall, floor and mosquito net and make noises at night.

It's weird to think Bill just left me, but by the time you get this letter he'll be back and I'll be living in my own house.

AS I write I hear a child screaming and wailing bloody murder, which is very common. Children are beaten here, usually with sticks, I see it every day, but the sound grates on your nerves.

I just had a visitor, which is OK but they always go through my stuff and everywhere I go people ask me for whatever I have, especially food. It is hard to say "no" especially with the food because this is a sharing community (country) and they offer their food to everyone else. The problem is, being white, everyone wants to try what I have and it disappears in seconds. I must hide food if visitors come because you must offer food to a visitor or else... you will make no friends. It is very rude. Anyways, I will end it here.

Write soon,
Sept 30, 1994 Friday

Dear Peg,

This will be a sloppy letter because I have a wounded and shell shocked cat in my lap & I'm trying not to disturb him (the red pen was the only one I could reach). Also, don't share this note with my folks or anyone who would be genuinely worried about me.

I'm gonna skip a lot of details but the most important are these: Well, first let me say "That which does not kill me makes me stronger." So if I live through this week I should really be strong!
Anyways, Wed night was my first night alone and I was terrified! I had a migraine, stomach cramps. nausea. Every noise scared me to death! I even bolted the front door closed. But I lived through it. SO night #2 comes, I am much more relaxed. I hear noises and would tell myself "That's just the bats (they live on the bedroom ceiling), that's just the lizard that lives on the roof, just the cats, the wind, the shutters. So I fall asleep. Early morning, hell has broken loose in my bedroom. Animals are running around the bed screaming, hissing, fighting, growling. And I freaked. It was like my nightmares come to life. Then it was silent except for a deep growling from the other room.

What would you have done? I didn't know what to think because one of the cats had been bitten 3 weeks ago and both have been acting funny. SO maybe one had rabies and attacked the other, or maybe an outside animal (reptile maybe) came in.

So I managed to escape the house terrified. The headmaster checked out the situation (thinking I was crazy). One cat was wounded pretty bad, the other was missing and there was "shit", literally, all over the room. We speculated an animal had gotten in and took the other cat away. So I went hysterical. The thing had been in my room! But we eventually found the other kitty, it had hurdled the fence and was up a tree, unharmed.

I took the cat (after much debating, I still was thinking "rabies"- don't touch it, hope it dies.) on a bush taxi ride from hell, 40 minutes, walked around for another 40, found the vet how said no rabies but possibly punctured intestines. I spent the night at a friends and now me and kitty are back home (the healthy kitty is missing). And I am about to spend the night. I'm pretty freaked out but what choice do I have? Other volunteers have had cobras in the rafters, lizards that drop on them in the middle of the night from the ceiling, lots of other snakes, of and rats. This was likely a wild bush "house" cat. And the kittens may keep it scared off (I hope). Anyways, I gotta get some work done.

Love ya (PS don't be too freaked, by the time you read this it will be long over and I'll be fine!)
Jara Diba

October 1994

End of August 1994

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