"The body is the harp of the soul. It is yours to bring forth from it sweet music or confused sounds" Kahlil Gibran

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

810 days later... A story of my time in The Gambia in Pictures

My time in Gambia is over... but before I close out my blog, for my friends in Gambia, my friends in America, my family, and myself, I want to reflect on Peace Corps, Gambia, my time here, and my memories.

As always I will do it mostly in pictures

meet our group, there are 30 of us. sadly we lost 5 for various reasons before they could complete their time... 7 extended their time 5 of them for a full third year. Collectively we probably lost 500 pounds of muscle and body fat by the end.
Here is my village family that I was assigned to. With them I learned Gambian culture and Wolof, despite moving away after training 3 months into my time in Africa, I remained close with them visiting them ever month. They were my family in Gambia.
Here I learned how to use a Gambian toliet...
and eat a traditional Gambian meal... this fish is more bone than meat

Here I am dressed up in a pink traditional dress... I am now Momodou Ngum the Wolof speaking white man.

With my village family I have a toma (person I am named after), here is my host brother Momodou who I was named after. He is one of my closest friends. One day he wants to go to university and be a business man, unitl then he willl build houses out of mud blocks and manage a small garden. We are now trying to raise money to help him go to prep. school so he can attend a university

The children of my family were kind, quite, and well behaved. This was different than any other family or group of kids that I met well in Gambia
After 3 months, I get assigned to live just outside the city working for a cashew NGO called IRD. I was lookng a little raggy at this point only a few months in. This was the day of our site announcments.

Moving to Manjai

It took some time, but after countless market trips and letters from America, I made a home for myself in a small three room house in the suburbs of the city. This was my fortress, my place of rest. On sundays I would not emerge until I had drank four cups of coffee, read a full book, done my meditation and yoga, and was fully recharged to take on Gambia for another week.

I made friends with the neighbors, and through countless hours sitting, chatting, and listening I learned Wolof and was certified as an Advanced Wolof speaker at the end of my time in Gambia
I also learned how to eat with my hand out of a comunal foodbowl. You only use your right hand though as the left is for the toilet... there is almost no toliet paper in Gambia.

Every monday and thursday I would bike into the city and play frisbee with other ex-pats and british medical students. This along with saturday games night was my favorite stress relief during my time in Gambia.

 My Work at IRD

My assingment was intiially to help cashew farmers in rural villages process their own nuts and learn how to run and manage their own businesses.
In my treks into the village I learned more about village culture and gained perspective on what exactly a large multinational NGO does in a developing country. Sadly I discovered that much of the aid is wasted, that millions of dollars are lost in corruption, beruocracy, inneffieciency, and poor managment. The bad taste that development leaves in my mouth causes me to persue a new course in education. I begin studying for the GMAT and look into applying to business school to focus on socially responsible business practices as part of an MBA.

Here I am at work teaching village members about business and what they will need to start and run cashew processing businesses. We used pictures and local language to translate complex business concepts into practical village lessons.
My greatest accomplishment in my first year was helping to aquire cashew processing equipment for villages. The equipment was sustainable on the village level. The steamer and roaster could be powered by the cashew shells from the nuts previously shelled creating a sustainable source of fuel.

 My Work at BEECause

I have already written much on my work with bees, but I would like to give a final wrap up to the most furfilling work I have ever found. 

I in my final months did honey processing and marketing. During this time I was able to supply three of the nicest restaurants in Gambia with high quality honey, I was also able to arrange supply to one wholesale outlet to supply many of the hotels and shops in Gambia.

A brief tour of honey processing
Some of our honey crystalized, so before processing it we had to heat it up.

Afterward we would pour it through a cloth and into a bucket to remove any excess dirt, wax, or pollen

After the honey had drained through the cloth Dudu our expert honey bottler would pour the honey into half liter plastic jars and small glass jars.

I created all the labeling for the jars. These recycled jam jars were used to sell small souviner amounts of honey. We also sold these jars to a pastery shop where the honey could be used as a topping on a croisont or danish

Some of the advertising that I created for BEECause marketing. Selling honey to many different tourist shops, hotels, wholesalers, and restauants was a huge accomplishment to my service and I hope it will continue to create and sustain a market for rural beekeepers long after I am gone 
Honey in the Raw

Few people know anything about honey. Honey comes in infinite variety depending on humidity, the flower the bees use, the type of bee, the region, the weather, and the seasonal bloom. This is red honey, I never figured out which flower produced it. In my time I tasted honey from every region at every time of year and found lemon honey which was light with citrus notes, cashew honey which was darker with tang, a strange red honey wich was spicy like a cinnimon candy, and I found hundreds of subltle flower flavors that our lost when raw honey is pasturized. Like milk honey is heated in developed countries to protect against bacterial contamination. Properly stored and harvested honey though is almost completely safe, and when honey is heated the flower notes and suble flavors are lost as much of it is volitile at high temperatures.

Balla lights cardboard to put in our metal smoking can which we use to calm the bees with. Actually for a number of reasons I ceased to be an advocate of smoker use, for one in Africa it didn't calm the agressive African bee much.

This picture was taken during a village training in the heart of a Gambian forest. Another one of my accomplishments was training villagers all over Gambia about proper and sustainable colony managment and beekeeping.

Personally, I overcame a fear of bees and became a competent beekeeper who was calm, patient, and had a good understanding of what was going on inside a hive.
As my time neared a close, I became an advocate for sustainable beekeepign in Gambia. I spoke at Peace Corps swearing in ceremonies, the visit of the acting director of all of Peace Corps, the national television station GRTS, and to Peace Corps volunteers from every country in West Africa about proper beekeeping and honey harvesting technquie. Improving my public speaking ability, I gained confidence in all aspects of my leadership ability.
After the trainings were finished, I spent a month writting and working on a grant for beekeeping from the UNDP (United Nations Development Programe) after writting and submiting it on behalf of BEECause, we were awarded $35,000, the largest grant the UNDP gave out in Gambia in 2012. The grant is still being used till December 2013 to train and imrpove rural beekeepers accross Gambia. This grant was probably the biggest impact that I made during my time in the Gambia.
After working with local hives for a year I wrote and published an article in an international beekeeping journal Bee World Dec. 2012 I talked about all the unique aspects of rural beekeeping and managing African bees in Gambia.

 The Final Weeks

My time in Gambia ended like a perfect dream. As my time neared to go I felt like I was partaking in a celebration of life. My grant, my honey sales, admission to the school of my dreams, and wonderful lifelong bonds I made to Gambians, Peace Corps Volunteers, and other volunteers doing incredible work from other countries gave me a free and light heart. I spent my final weeks frantically working to pass off all that I had done in hopes it would carry on after I had left. I feel I balanced myself and did a great job passing off work and also relaxing with long days by the beach and preperation to leave Gambia.
Coco Ocean, a five star resort that gives discounts to Peace Corps volunteers in search of a holiday

Great view from the room!

One of the sunsets in Gambia spent with Santi at Coco Ocean
 It was in this spirit that I closed out my time, but before I close I want to share pictures from all aspects of Gambian culture and life, and also share a few of the things I will miss.

The Children of Gambia 

Loud, playful, kind, annoying, innocent, craying sweets from Westerners, dirty, sad, happy, and balls of pure enjoyment. There are many adjectives for the children of the Gambia, some good some not so good, but they will remain in my heart as a beautiful expression of the culture of the gambia. Here are a few things commonly said among children to Westerners..." (Toubobs) toubab minty! toubab give me money! toubab what is your name? any gambian coins? toubab give me your bottle. any pen?"     

The small ones would often fear the horrifying sight of white skin!

they could always make me smile.

The Women of Gambia
Silently working, the women of the Gambia were so strong. They swept, pounded millet, took care of the children, cooked, sold and purchased at the market, and worked worked worked without complaining and witout asking for anything. There was a silent pride to them, that though in many ways they were opressed by hard work, gender roles, and child rearing, that they endured with pride. It saddens me that I could not have gotten to know the women of the Gambia better, as a man there was an invisible wall between me and any real intimacy with the daily lives of women in Gambia. Still I watched from afar and was amazed.
This was a great picture from Sam's visit. At the market there were so many colors and the women would sell all day usually only making a few cents in the process.
 Music of Gambia
The lady with shotguns shells on her fingers played the hollowed out gourd and I loved dancing and listening to the sound of women singing and dancing. Really the men rarely danced (if they did they were just trying to show off).

A kora player at a concert near Banjul.

 Rainy Season

here's to mudwrestling in the rainy season. When almost 10 months of Gambia is bone dry hot and sunny... when it does rain you have to have some fun.

Trip to Cape Verde 

After 8 months in Gambia I went to visit the islands off the coast of Senegal where I hiked volcanoes and relaxed with friends.
The path down the side of the volocano

Even in Cape Verde I nurtured my coffee obsession while others get a beer.

A beautiful time with friends in Cape Verde


My first year saw a presidential election in Gambia and the 50th aniversery event. Combine the two and you get a political pony show, here is the president of the Gambia, the former ambassador, and the Peace Corps country director, as part of the political circus we got to meet the president and recieve a handmade ceremonial dress from him. I could not say anything in my time in Gambia about the president, there was censorship on the news, claims that he cured HIV through divine intervention and revelation, and signs everywhere reading "you cannot afford to continue hating yourself by not voting for him in 2011" I was living in a unique political climate to say the least.
This comemorates my first thanksgiving dinner cooked by myself while on lockdown during the presidential elections in Nov. 2011

Peanuts, fish, and poverty

Gambia survives off of peanuts, poor quality peanuts often consumed or sold for pennies on the export market as bird feed because of size, sanitation, and some sort of fungus or mold that grows on them. Sadly this keeps Gambia in extreme poverty as the culture is dead set on growing these poor quality peanuts to just barely get by... if there is a drought or poor rains, people go hungry in the villages for months

A group of school children in Gambia. They learn a few basic phrases in english, but the education in the village is so poor that children and adults can really only ever say hello and introduce themselves in english. the city area is much better, but the education is a huge barrier to development in Gambia. Here's a shout out of applause to our Peace Corps Volunteers working in the education sector to improve this

Trash is everywhere, plastic is burned on the street and there are very few means of waste disposal, this is Gambia's only real dump, it is on fire 24-7 and is populated by dogs, cows grazing animals, and hundreds of people and children searching through the trash of hotels and shops for something useful. The smells of plastic fumes and rotting is overwhelming, I lived just a few blocks away from this horrifying place.

Young children searching through the trash

The fish market in Bakau, many people make their living in Gambia fishing. Peanuts and fish provide the small amount of protien Gambians recieve in their diet, and this fish market is a staple view of Gambian culture
Horrifyingly, they slaughter a ram every year 90 days after the end of Ramadan. This holiday is colorful and full of culture, it is very sad though for the rams (see post Ramagedeon for full details). It is also sad that many people spend all their savings on a single holiday as a ram is very expensive for a Gambian budget

 Malik Ngum
One year in, my little host borther died suddenly of y mysterious illness, I was told yellow fever, but I dont know if anyone really knew. It is sad to see how in a land of disease and malnutrition life is so fragile.

 Trip to Spain

 I would like to post just a few photos from my time in Spain and the south of France, it was a great time and a great break from the difficulties of Gambia.

What I will love and miss... 
A small list of things left in Gambia

Taking artsy photos... esspecially of dogs

and giant cows

eating fresh honey in the comb and right out of the hive

60-70 (way less than most volunteers) magoes consumed under a tree in the afternoon heat
picking up, playing with, and annoying baby goats

15 footballs I purchased, played with, and help destroy with the children
some small children... when clean and not asking for mintys
playing chess on the beach with my friend Micah

eating fresh and exotic friut right off the tree

seeing strange wildlife... for Gambia it was a few monkeys, crocodiles, and hippos

the beautiful birds

countless glasses of ataya shared with locals

green tea brewed and foamed with lots of sugar and mint... a time wasting activity that bonded you with the people


my wonderful family in Mariama Kunda

riding my bike all the time everywhere. this is my last bike, I destroyed three in my two years
finding an excuse to dance everyday

eating out of one foodbowl with friends and coworkers

good friends

Camps fires by the beach
Gambians, especially Matar who was a great friend to me.

Walks on the beach with Santi, as there were not enough of them

Despite getting stung consistantly, beekeeping was a joy in my life and I hope it continues to be. Here is a picture of a queen, you can only see her abdomen as her helpers are covering her up.

Matar and Brian at frisbee, on the old tractor that sits next to the field

Goodbye to Gambia

So here is where I close. I have grown, I have loved, I have learned. A few weeks ago I went to work for the last time. Before I left I took a picture of the locally sewn beesuits hanging on the line, a great reminder of my last day, and of all the great times I had beekeeping.

A few days later, I moved out of my house....
my leaving day, i packed up donated just about everything a own to the people in my neighborhood
After going to frisbee twice a week every week for 27 months, here I am at my last frisbee.

 I now say goodbye to Gambia, I would like to write a few final posts reflecting on my time in Gambia. That will come later once I have digested my time in Gambia better, this was a rememberance of the entire journey. I am happy to have shared it with those who have read my blog. I am currently in Germany on vacation prior to returning to America.  I will return the end of April

In early January I learned that I had been accepting to Duke University to study environmental managment and business administration at the graduate level as part of a three year dual masters program. I will start this fall and in the meantime I will take my summer catching up with family and friends in Colorado.

I would like to leave this post with a poem by my good friend Remy who wrote this to remember our time in Gambia.

Remy's poem 
I have no idea
where any of these people
are going . . .
Terminals then plane cabins,
seat belts, turbulence,
maybe a window seat?

Blaine reinventing invention!
The rock of the Turners!
Emily's rosy cheeks!
The waves and Regis abiding!
Hug of Xander!
The depth and knowledge in Mars!
Soup of tired Allshouse eyes!
The allusive and gentle Maureen!
Bearded, long, bald Seth!
The slow articulation of Scott-like perfection!
Calm and cool, concrete Lina!
The beast of kindness in Mike's reflection!
On foot, brash, up and down Travis!
Sided by smiles of Hilary!
And Abby skipping sweet in a dress! . . . 

Where are you all going? 
Now? Later?
Home, and work, maybe no . . .
Full or empty closets,
fridges and hearts,
lawn and car intentions,
leather-bound collections of wisdom,
speakers, screens, positions in chairs,
dogs, cats, children,
mothers around the block,
toast, coffee, history and rapture! . . . 

Love the heartbeat 
and have no shame
in your shadow-external.
is a right.
As is your inalienable right
to self destruct and recreate.
Disrobe the layers of grey groupthink.
Cry! Cry! Cry! Cry!
For unity! . . . 

Or is this a bit too much to ask?
You have bags and children 
criss-crossed round your neck
Begging you to stay,
while you have terminals
to arrive and depart from . . . 

But, Matt Tice,
what are you thinking 
over your morning coffee
and new found love?
You stop and look out ---
a long stare ---
at the world
then closed your eyes,
and I followed, and
with ourselves
we shared the universe . . .

I opened them and you were gone
and my eyes drifted back
to all the holy people I've met,
and I see our futures:
Watches, wedding rings,
leather bags, rushing bodies,
soupy stares, fevers,
sweating, heartbeats,
. . . But, first
the terminal.
We have to go on with these people,
to the skies and so forth,
which will continue to serve us
as we serve each other. 

-December 13th, 2012. The Gambia.

May we spend our days in Peace ~Nu day endoo chi Jamma