Of the 1000 new things that are both wonderful and horrifying, searching for the spider is one of them. Our room, which is a triple split among three of us PCT (peace corps trainees) has a small bathroom, it has become my practice to find the wolf spider (don’t know if it is, but wolf sounds vicious enough). It is about the size of a 50 cent piece and scuttles at high speeds to a new corner every time one enters. At night, pulling back the mosquito net and navigating through the pitch black blind originally produced fear, now produces very little emotional reaction for us, as the giant wood wasps, the vultures that hang out in the trees, the fear of stepping on the deadly Puff Adder, and a general desensitization to all that is foreign is already setting in. The wolf spider has recently gone missing, leading me to check the toilet seat before I sit.
We are currently undergoing intense daily training sessions that include daily lessons on culture, gardening, language, religion, wildlife, and history. Yesterday we learned more than we could ever wrap our heads around about sustainable gardening using urine, trash, and animal dung as fertilizer and compost. Today we learned about the different ethnic groups and languages of the Gambia, and I immersed myself in the different general greetings and expressions of Wolof (a language which I may learns but just enjoy the rhythmic sound of) Maan chikawaw ndunka ndunka is a common expression saying “I’m on it slowly slowly,“ in response to “How goes the work?” Naka ligeey bi? I will give more updates once I know the language I will be studying which as of now has three possibilities: Mandinka, Pulaar, or Wolof.
Our group is bonding quite well. It is surprising just how people from the entire spectrum of age, background, and culture have found their way here. On the extremes we have 21-65 year olds, more conservative Christians, and some covered in tattoos smoking smuggled cartons of cigarettes. We are certainly still figuring each other out and there has been no clear bonding that is exclusive in the group, everyone seems to be relatively free from exclusive friends and the relations are fluid and ever changing.
Technology has been null, I get occasional electricity at our training lodge when the generator is turned on, and there is nothing for many miles outside this place, only small villages and the African bush. I was shocked to see the extreme expression of poverty here in The Gambia. Donkeys and carts everywhere, tin huts, poor waste disposal leave trash and broken down vehicles piled on the side of the roadway, and what I believe would be the height of tourist development was really a collage of eroding concrete structures only one or two well built resorts. The only advertisements on the side of the road are for cell phone companies, they provide interesting incentives such as “Sign up for a plan and win a ram” (an honest incentive, for the touboski rams are highly prized for sacrifice during the touboski festival) and “10 hajj prize packs” (Free trips to Mecca for the pilgrimage).
Tomorrow is a big day, I will interview with the head of the environmental program and we will determine what sight will be the best for me and what I want to do. Eco tourism, bee keeping for a local community, starting sustainable community gardens, and education projects in schools are all possible directions my Peace Corps service could take, and I am incredibly excited after I have seen the level of training and skill that we are given before we make our journey into our assigned village.
Mostly, I love the people already. They are incredibly kind and full of love. They are in touch with their inner animal; they know the sun, the way of growing things, their bodily functions, pests, and predators so well. And I being only a tuabob (a pale skin as we are called) am just discovering this side of myself for the first time, I feel alive and on the boarder of deep self discovery.
I will hopefully get a phone tomorrow and be able to send this post out on the internet at the Peace Corps head quarters, I will try to include pictures of what I have taken so far.
About being able to contact me, if want to write me a letter, I would be ecstatic and do my best to respond to anything written to me. My address is as follows
Alexander Kent, PCT (PCV starting march!)
PO Box 582 c/o The Peace Corps
Banjul, The Gambia
I would appreciate hearing from home. Email will also work, but the prospects right now seem infrequent. Also, once I have a phone, I would love to hear from you from Skype, I’ve been told it is the cheapest to do a skype to phone connection where you call me, (30 cents a minute is as cheap as I can find sorry) Once I get my number, I would love to hear from you, and promise to bring something back for you for your effort and lost $. There are some prospects of me dropping big bucks to get a mobile internet card where I could get internet anywhere, but I believe there is much $ involved and the difficulties in charging this beast.
I love you all and will send out a post as soon as I get more word on my language, assignment, and phone number.
Jaama rek (Peace only),