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The Gambia

So. In Boston we have some initiation and we have to sign one more paper stating we haven't had any mishaps with the law and that the women haven't had any un-protected sex. I lie here again. Not the sex part! but the law part. I actually had received driving 2 tickets and hadn't paid them. I figured the statute of limitations on the tickets was 2 years, and I would be out of the country so... no worries. Again the Peace Corps didn't find out.

The flight(s) were grueling. Boston to New York to Portugal to Gambia. I was a group leader, overseeing the safe transport of 50 volunteers and their luggage.

I had already checked out the guy situation and decided that Jason was hot. SO I befriended his friend Eric. It would later turn out I had a lot more in common with Eric than I did with Jason. (Don't get me wrong, I DID get it on with Jason, I just enjoyed Eric's company more. And in case Eric reads this I must admit I DID end up falling for him and I re-lived the moments with him and replayed the mistakes I made with him. Something could have happened. But it never did.)

Getting off the plane was quite an experience. Tons of cab drivers and random people approaching us, trying to carry our bags or give us rides. Our Assistant Director kept repeating that we had no money, that we had our own bus. But even after we all managed to get our bags back, there were some disgruntled men. They wanted some sort of payment for picking our bags up and moving them 2 feet. It was a mad house. The confusion, the noise, the yelling in foreign tongues! I didn't know what was going on (especially after more than 24 hours of travel!)

I would find out later that this is the scenario in many a foreign airport.

We were taken to a hotel that I thought was all right. The beds were thin but sleepable, there was a shower and a toilet. And MAYBE a ceiling fan. The hotel also had a pool and was on the beach (of the Atlantic Ocean). Little did I know I was staying in the lap of luxery.

The next day we loaded up our bags and headed put to Tendaba Camp. It is a good 2 hours by bus or the worst pot-hole filled road you could ever imagine.

When we finally arrived we were put into round, cement huts that were divided in half. There were 2 people to each half. I satyed with Amy while my new best friend Jean Karjewski, stayed with Jennifer Ewing on the other side. We were at the very end of the path, looking down over all of our mates. We were also the farthest from the bathroom.
Our beds were concrete, built up from the floor, with a thin mattress thrown over them. Luckily the were also surrounded by misquito nets (which we seriously needed) and each side was given one fan. The bathrooms were in a building at the foot of the path. Thre were 14 rooms, each with a toilet and a shower. It was more disgusting than the last hotel. Again, I didn't know how good we had it!

Tendaba was on the river. (ALL points in the Gambia are no more than 6 kilometers from the river and some are even on the ocean. It is a water culture. Lot's of fish.

During the tourist season the camp was filled, but we were there on the off season. We had little dance parties every friday night, and a large wild boar roast on Saturdays. Our classroom was under a pavillion facing the mudflats of the river. When the weather was too hot to concentrate you just looked over the instructors shoulder and stared at the beautiful view. The sand crabs would becon you with their large with claws (well, claw. They each had one which they waved in a "Come here, come here..." manner. It is some kind of mating ritual, I think.)

The hardest day of training was called "A Day In The Life Of A Gambian Woman". We had to get up before sunrise and go to a local home. We were each dropped off at a home, far from each other. We were all alone, except for the Gambians. We couldn't communicate, but we were supposed to do whatever the woman did. This meant cooking breakfast, cleaning the house, taking care of the children, preparing lunch and packing up, carrying it out to the rice fields, planting rice for hours, taking a break to eat...
and actually I don't KNOW what else, because by that point I quit, and I was allowed to go back to camp.

But I learned enought to know that it sucked being a Gambian woman. Where were the men you might ask. Well, Gambian men pretty much sit around drinking "attiya". (tea) If they need more workers they either marry another bride or have another baby.

On other days I studied Mandinka, teaching methods, cross cultural awareness and a little agro-forestry. The 10 weeks passed quickly and we had a party at the embassy to celebrate our "graduation".

My job was to train Gambian teachers in modern teaching methods and to open a resource center in the school.

Illiasa, my new home



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Email: thefattraveler@hotmail.com