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

Thursday, March 10, 2011

They Will Stone You

I was perpetually sick for about 10 days, with what was first thought of as salmonella food poisoning and after a negative test it is now thought to have been E-coli food poisoning. About 12 of us got really sick from a group dinner and I unfortunately was one of the worst. I was essentially trapped in the small Peace Corps Volunteer house with a bathroom and a bed. That was very sad because I was not able to go to visit my new site or say goodbye to my host family for the past 2 months. I am slowly getting better but my body is now very weak and I have lost considerable weight. Throughout it all I have been just experiencing everything. I have kept very positive and have been just trying to do everything to get healthy in the day to day battle of staying hydrated.

We are no longer in the village and will be placed soon. Swear in is fast approaching and we have had our final language test. I just have been given final clearance from results of my language efforts and community integration. I have been very proud of my performance and language progression, by my second test I had already received Intermediate Middle Proficiency, meaning I already scored high enough to graduate to a volunteer. I am very happy that even after being sick and not studying, my final test saw me all the way to Intermediate High which is a step below advanced which will start to lead into fluency. It is incredible to see how 8 hour language classes and complete immersion can lead to a high functional knowledge in two months. I am very excited to see where my language will take me by the end of service. As far as language mix ups still go, I discovered due to a subtle tonal difference I have been telling shop owners that I am only “dripping” at their merchandise instead of looking. But to demonstrate the culture, here are some conversations I have had here that are quite interesting.

I will start with a few memorable conversations I have had well in the village. I have spent many afternoons under the mango tree asking mostly about ways to tell off small children who ask for money and mintys. Annoying as this is, there have also been numerous times where they run up to us, slap at us and grab on to our bikes and almost cause us to crash. I was asking Momodu what they would do if I would tell them, “You look like donkeys stop begging.” His speech was priceless because of his English word choice.

If you tell them that they will pick up stone and they will stone you.

But I can chase them down

Oh but they can run very effectively. They do not run straight

You mean they weave

Yes weave, and you will not catch them

Ok, what if I tell them you are dirty go bathe?

Ohhh they will stone you

How about “I will beat you”

That will encourage them to stone you

I see

The children actually were generally afraid of me when I snapped at them for trying to hit me or grab onto the bike, not because I was actually going to do anything, but that physical punishment is the preferred method of child rearing and there is a belief here that the white man never lies.
This week in the city I ran into an adorable old woman on the street. She was selling peanuts or some roadside condiment and I was waiting for some new Gambian friends I have made in a shop. She looked up at me with no teeth and slowly starts speaking in wolof.

Jama ngome? (do you have peace?)

Jama rek (Peace only)


Am nga jabar? (Do you have a wife?)

Ahhh.. ammuma jabar (I don’t have one)

Chi Gambia moon nga am niari jabar (In Gambia you can have two wives)

(I am thinking she is about to offer me a daughter or two for marriage about now as many others do and have done)

Baux naa soxlaauma jabar legey (I am good I really don’t need a wife right now) (also the x is a deep H sound)


Mey ma halis (Give me money)

Ballal ma ammuma halis (Forgive me I don’t have money)

Lutah, mey ma halis (Why? Lend me money!)

It is at this point I walked away from the adorable old woman, now less adorable, who thought as do all here that “Tubaubs” (Once again means white skin) have lots of extra money.

The next conversation I have is about cultural differences…
My host mother and I were having a conversation about the differences in life in America. Between our language barriers (this was quite early in my language learning), we came upon the subject of having multiple wives, a practice alive and well in Gambian culture. Please note that some of the conversation was in Wolof, some was in English at the time.

In America do they have two wives?

No none of America (not able to communicate the term illegal yet)

So do you think two wives…. good for America?

Ahhh, (without using too complex wolof as I was really new at this point) I don’t know. It’s just different over there.

Do you think two wives is good?

(Really trying my best to not offend my new family I called Momodu over to translate from English to Wolof) “I think it is very difficult for two wives to be happy. And I don’t know how a man can treat two women equally in such a way that they would be truly happy in the situation.”

This is where the conversation ended for the night. In my subsequent cultural conversations, I was told by our wonderful teacher Haddy, that the practice of multiple wives is more a product of the original culture that was then converted to Islam in a religious struggle between animism (Beliefs in spirits and worship of nature) that merged the two together. Haddy contends that Islam’s precondition to multiple wives is that they are treated equally and are provided for in a way which they will be both happy. Both I and she agree that this is impossible as one is bound to favor one woman over another.

This gets into an even more interesting talk about how the religion of animism is blended into Islam here in such a way that is takes on a very unique cultural identity.

My 1000 things that must be experienced to believe in the Gambia: This edition will focus on superstitions that are held and practiced here.

13 Beliefs of the animist culture

13. Every village has a Konkorang. A korkorang’s identity in the village must remain unknown. He will dress up in a suit of leaves grasses, and bark. Any extra skin will be covered in mud. They usually wield two machetes and are charged with protecting freshly circumcised boys from attacks by evil spirits.

12. Also, they have the job of hunting down evil spirits at night. To accomplish this they have powerful amulets, fetishes, and jujus. More on jujus later, but many villagers believe the konkorang can fly around at night in his battle with evil spirits.

11. Finally, children, uncircumcised boys and women are not allowed in the presence of the konkorang, and will be beaten or cursed by the konkorang if seen. My little host sister was terrified of the konkorang and would cling to me or her mom at the mention of it.

10. Owls are possessed by evil spirits. It is really sad here, they kill owls

9. Kids born deformed are left in the front yard over night. If they are not there in the morning that means they have turned into their true form (usually a witch or snake) and flown or slithered away.

8. Soon after the dancing video posted below, I got sick with food poisoning. My host family and many in the village were convinced that this was because I had not danced in awhile and that it disagreed with my body.

7. Certain trees have magical powers and are worshiped.

6. Do not shout someone’s name at night or the evil spirits of the night could pick the name up and haunt the person. No one here ever calls anyone’s name loudly at night.

5. They believe in massive lizards which have been translated to the word “Dragon” There is a great fear of these creatures that dwell in the bush, swamps and lakes. Some volunteers talk of being incredibly afraid of the bush at night because it has been described as so wild and eerie that a belief in all of these things is not only understandable but creeping in on some volunteers towards a healthy fear of dragons and hyenas .

4. There is a fear that if a snake makes eye contact with a pregnant woman that it will posses her child with an evil spirit.

3. Salt, razors, and charcoal are not sold at night by shops for fear they will be used for witchcraft.

2. Momodu said, there are people who you cannot kill. Because you will stab them and “the knife will not enter” this is because the belief in the African juju is alive and well. A marabou (African Witch Doctor) will make all sorts of jujus that will give various magical powers. They are however very expensive but ideal for making super soldiers!

1. Also, if you go to the right marabou, you can get some pretty nasty curses put on people. Cursing of multiple generations of children is rumored and horrible diseases can be given to whoever stole your donkey. However, most marabous are good and do not curse, they will for 25 dalasi ($1 American) read your fortune (yes I had the village marabou read my fortune mostly to say that I have had an African witch doctor read my fortune, can’t say what he said though although for it to come true I have to buy 7 loaves of bread cut them in half and give them to hungry children).

Life is good, tomorrow I get sworn in, and I get to speak on the national TV station in Wolof about the work Peace Corps will be doing. Also, if you haven't seen it, I have been able while sick to put up a video of me dancing.

1 comment:

  1. I love that bike story so much. Cracked me up! :)