Cats behind me, Bill and I travel back up-country to Illiasa. I guess I am finally ready to start my service. My house is about finished. I have 3 doors, I can get outside from every room. I have a fence surrounding my back yard for some privacy. It does the job, a bit. i mean, it is made from palm fronds. If anyone wants to peek a look at me, they only have to stick their finders and push the leaves aside. And children do this, a lot.
So, I have a second fence put around my commo/bathing area. Every day my "mother" walks to the well and pumps me out a huge pail of water. She then carries it on her head to my house. I help her take it off my head and we will my water "gibida". This is a porus clay pot covered with a metal plate or damp cloth. It is kept out of direct sunlight. It keeps your water cool for drinking.
I don't need the gibida filled everyday, so most days we dump the water into another pail that I use for bath water (and water for washing dishes). It is a plastic pail with tight fitting lid. When I wake up in the morning I put the pail out in sunlight. But I must remember to bring it back in the house at noon. So that by 6pm it will be cool enough to bathe with. If I leave it out all day, I will not be able to wash because the water will be scalding hot!
To bathe, I carry the pail (And it is REALLY heavy) out to my cement bathing pad (I had to have a cement walk-way put in, or else my feet got filthy on the way back into the house). I have a big plastic cup that I dip into the water and I use it to pout the water over my head. It actually became a really nice way to bathe. (Once I got used to it.) It conserves water and it is nice to be out in nature. (Except that I was surrounded by trees and was always paranoid that somewhere in that foliage were young fellas looking down on me.) Ah well. I also washed dishes out there and clothes.
What was in my home? Well, in the kitchen and front room I had shelves made from concrete blocks and wooden planks. I kept my cooking stuff, food, books and papers on them. Oh and my gas tank and burner were also kept on one (Well, the tank was on the floor.) And my gibida was in the cornor of the kitchen
In the font room was 2 wicker chairs, wicker table, wicker bed and lots of empty space.
in the bedroom was a double sized iron rod bed with straw mattress and mosquito net, some kind of closet for my clothes and... that was it. I had a window cut into the wall over my bed leading into the front room, thring to open up as much light as possible. I kept my candle there so I could read at night. And I had the floors painted black to try and give it a sense of a real solid floor, not a dirt floor. I had seen my friend Jean do it with her place and it worked great! In my place.. it was.. so so.
And I had bizarre yellow and Sesame Street curtains over all window and door spaces. To keep some privacy without shuting the doors and blocking out all light and air. There was no glass, but I had screens and bars on all windows and doors. (PC regulations)
So that is "Home Sweet Home". But what about work? Well, I headed on down to the Illiasa Primary School. It was still summer so school wasn't in session yet. It was a very short walk, maybe 2-3 minutes. (well, it was a very small village, but even so, I lived very close.)
They had put aside a room for me. In a cement block there was a classroom on the left. In it was a flock or goats (or is that a herd). There is no door to keep out the wild life and they were clearly seeking shade. That was the third grade classroom.
To the right was the fourth grade classroom and inside was a donkey tethered to the wall.
between these to rooms were to bright red metal doors with locks on them. here was my Resource Center. In it were wooden tables, bookshelves, books and a can of stain. These things were all thrown together in huge mess. I guess my job was to make sense of it all. So I hauled the tables out and began to stain them. And in 5 minutes a had a crowd of children surrounding me, watching my every move. It was unnerving and uncomfortable. But I guess I lived through it. Gambians are excessivly friendly people and I am sure I was not as friendly as they would have liked and somehow I got the place organized. Now what?
Well, soon enough school started. I was expected to be there, but to do what? No one seemed to know what to do with me. Least of all me. Teach English classes in the classrooms? To run a library? Who knew? I guess I tried a little of everything. I even started an after school club. But nothing seemed to last. And then Bill came up with a great idea. An idea that would be known around the PC office and in surrounding villages as My great idea, but truth be told, it was Bills great idea.
The idea was a battery drive. You see. With no electricity running out to the villages, everything needing power is run on batteries. And believe me every Gambian and his brother has a portable radio to get the days news. Adding to this problem is that none of these batteries are alkaline. So they die in and hour or two. And what do we do when a battery dies? Why, we throw it on the ground. Doesn't matter wher we are, just toss it. So it is not uncommon to see a baby chewing on a battery, or a goat swallor one or for the battery to deteriorate and the acid run into the ground, weather it me in a garden or over a water table or... wherever!
So, we get a large oil drum barrel and I put up posters in the library. Each child has his or her name up there and we will count every battery they bring in. The winner, who brings in the most batteries in wach class will get a prize. what a great idea.
Ok granted we didn't forsee many problems that we would have.
First of all, day one of collection - Our oil barrell is full and overflowing. We have collected over 4000 batteries on the first day. My hands are in decay from handleing them all, and it has not been particularly healthy for the children. I will end up with skin problems for months.
But all in all it was a successful program. By the end of 3 weeks we had collected over 14,000 batteries in an area so small! We had a cement pit dug and we buried the batteries in them. And we left a slit int he out so that people could come and dump batteries int he future.
We had a huge party at school, all of the parents came and even some people from the ministry of education. There was singing and dancing and we handed out the prizes. It was not long before other PCV started the same programs at their schools with success even greater than ours. It was the one major project I did in Illiasa. I had become interested in other things.....