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Down Country

Down Country is the capital area of The Gambia. When i refer to it I am usually referring to Bakau, although the capital is Banjul.
Down Coutry there are paved roads and one or two pizza joints. There is one ice-cream parlor owned by the Lebonese. There is also the PC office where we have access to computers and a library. And there is a clinic where there is not only medicine but a TV and VCR. Down Country also has the American Embassy with American TV and movies.

PCV usually come down for a weekend every other month. And some PCV are located in or around the capital and they will visit the office much more often. I start to spend more and more time DC (Down Country). I start up the PC educational news letter. People submit lesson plans or articles. I type it up, photocopy it and get out out in the mail run. (Although mail comes in from America a couple times a week there is no way to get it to the volunteers. So each month 2 volunteers gather up all of the mail and go with a driver. They stop at all of the sites dropping of mail and carrying news from one site to another. It takes 3 days to visit all of the sites. And it is an important life line for many volunteers. For some of them it is the only time they see English speaking people. And it gives the volunteers a chance to show off their homes and the work that they have accomplished. Often a volunteer feels completely unappreciated and this can really be a boost.)

So, I write this newsletter and get it out in the mail. this means I am down country a lot. Then I start helping with projects around the office. I help move all of the books from the old library to the new one. And over time I learn about shipments of books coming in from various aid organizations. I discover old furniture form ex-pats just lying around. And I decide to open more resource centers in other villages near Illiasa. NOT that I have done anything with the resource center that I have. But this is a great excuse to travel DC. I keeping collecting books and furniture and bringing it up-country. All told I open 5 resource centers and hold like one training session for the teachers on how to use them. This is a project that I enjoyed doing. I loved literally standing on a mountain of books 15 feet high and digging through it looking for "the good stuff". But I know that there are probably 5 rooms full of books either locked up with no one using them or that have been completely looted. I didn't train and I didn't give anyone a sense of ownership. I could have donw a lot more. But I didn't. Out of laziness, out of boredom, out of homesickness... I don't know. But actually I don't fret on it too much, there are actually bigger screw-ups in my life I fret upon in the dark hours.

There were other moments in the PC. Arguments and make-ups with Abhijit. Workshops both attended and given. I was invited to speak at workshops for other volunteer orgaizations. I visited other sites, spent the night in strange places. (Including one night when I missed the last ferry to Banjul, it was pitch black darkness (don't forget, no electricity no night lights) and I remembered hearing about a mission in the area where my friend was having sex with one of the ministers. So I get out of the taxi and knock at a gate. Finally a sister comes and lets me in. I expain I am stranded on this side of the river with no way to get home. They offer me a room and breakfast. It was actually the nicest accomodations I had had in quite a while. (a shower!))

I had mice and snakes so I got 3 kittens. One I had to drown when it got too sick. The other 2 (Poopsy and Lamin) had kittens that died. People were afraid of me. Cats are not considered "tame" animals in the Gambia. And when I would hold them or travel with them women would scream. I was actually kicked out of a taxi due to the fear of my little babies.
But the Gambians actually have folklore about cats and their healing powers. Women came to me for shavings of their fur and once as I held the cat they tried to put his tail down a babies throat. When I refused to allow this they called me "selfish" that I had this cat with healing powers but wouldn't let them use it. Apparently the baby was ill, but I can't imagine that the tail of my dirty cat could help.

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