March and April have been very exciting months! I travelled to Kombo at the beginning of March for Education Reconnect, an optional meeting where Ed volunteers can catch up with each other and share project ideas. I then travelled back up to my site and spent St. Patricks Day in my village, though I did wear green to school. The last two weeks of March were the last weeks of Term 2, so I spent much of my time giving tests to all my classes and then grading them. I ran my last Library Club and Science Club meetings. In science club we learned about elements and played a spelling game where my students used tiny plastic letters to try and frantically spell the names of certain elements correctly before the other groups could. I saw many interpretations, including “Alumnum” and “Flooreen,” but many groups got it right in the end. In Library Club I began to train the members in how to read with another student. I’m hoping I can set up a “reading buddies” program soon, as a final library project. I spent a Saturday biking to another nearby school to attend a “Peer Tutoring Training” with the 8 best grade 7 and 8 students from my school (4 boys and 4 girls). They were trained in basic methods of tutoring other students. This program was actually started by Kristy, my old site mate, and they are now spreading it to other schools.
Everyone in my host-family is doing well. I gained a little extra fame in my village (not that I don’t normally stand out anyway) when I brought a new bucket and rope for the well near my hut. I fetch 14 buckets of water from the well every day to water my garden and bath, and the rope was starting to look rather tired. Therefore, I spent an afternoon running around the Basse market looking for an empty vegetable oil drum, which is what they cut open and use as well buckets, and eventually I found one. People were very thankful, since most of the people living around my family’s compound also use the well. I’ve come to appreciate being able to watch the African sun set over the thatch roof huts as I water my garden in the evening. I got lots of tomatoes going and one banana tree is growing very quickly, though it needs a lot of water.
School ended with the beginning of the “interhouse,” which is essentially the school Sports Day. All students are split into “kundas” or teams and they compete in sprint, jump, and other fun activities over a one day event. However, before the Sports Day each Kunda gets a “training” day where they can practice the events. My kunda had their practice day right before I had to leave again for Kombo. I was able to finish up all my grading, turn in my marks, and help coordinate events. It’s always chaotic and most of the students are not that interested in running. However, when I started participating in races myself, there was a surge of boys and girls wanting to run, all of them eager to try and beat Mr.Cham (me). Once the suns heat began to sink in we called it a day, but I brought out my Frisbee and tried showing a few older students how to throw it. Soon I had a few teachers throwing the Frisbee around as well. They got pretty good at it after a while and really enjoyed it. I tried to show them a few fancy catches and then laughed as they all tried to imitate me and catch it one-handed between their legs or behind their backs (usually only succeeding in getting whacked by the Frisbee).
On Thursday I packed up, closed up my hut, and biked to Basse. I met a few new volunteers at the Transit House, who were fun to hang out with. Talking to them reminded me of how long I’ve been here now. On Friday I relaxed in Basse and ran some errands. I met a group of Peace Corps staff members who were travelling through in a Peace Corps car. They agreed to give me a lift to Kombo on Saturday, which was great. We drove down South Bank road, which is slowly being cleared, flattened, and tarred by two foreign road building companies. I stayed in Kombo for a few days, attending TDE (Training, Design, and Evaluation), which was the first phase of preparation for Pre-Service Training. I’ve started to take on my PCVL job, which is exciting.
After TDE, I travelled back to Upper River Region just before Easter. I got a ride with a bush taxi driver named Amadou, who is very fast and reliable. I got up at 5:30am to meet him on the road and I was in Basse by 2pm. I lugged my bags the last kilometer from the car park to the Transit House and arrived drenched in sweat. It is incredibly hot up here. The air hangs thick and hot around you and the sun just bakes everything in its wake. Everything feels hot; your clothes, your bike seat, even the air you fan at yourself in a vain attempt to cool off. I’m getting used to it again though. I drink close to 10 liters of water a day and I never urinate, which shows how much sweating I’m doing. Upon reaching the transit house I rehydrated, packed up my bike and rode the last 30 km to my village. The sun was going down at that point so the heat was not too bad. On Friday I biked up to visit another volunteer nearby me. We helped water in a large women’s garden and ate lots of cashew fruits, which are ripe and abundant right now. On Saturday I rode from there back down to Basse for Easter. Two other volunteers were also at the Transit House and we cooked up a big bowl of pasta, along with garlic bread, salad, and a fruit salad for desert (which included mango, cashew fruit, papaya, and oranges). In order to get ground beef we had to go to the meat market, where we purchased a hunk on cow (not sure what part of the cow it was) and took it to another part of the market where there are men with hand-cranked grinding machines. We had them make our ground beef for us. We went to midnight mass and slept in the next morning. I stayed in Basse an extra day to finish up typing a few tests for my school. This is a mundane task, but I’m fast at it and I make far less typos than the people that are paid to type things in Basse (they also usually type using one finger on each hand). I also wrote up a summary of all the teaching aids I have made at my school. I had taken the time to photograph them before I left. It’s crazy to look back on almost two years worth of classroom work. With all that done, I spent another hot night outside and biked back to site on the morning of April 6th.
I spent exactly six days back at site and I am still baffled at the number of things I managed to get done. First I unpacked and gave my family the gifts I usually bring them (squash, carrots, beans, salt, potatoes, and kola nuts). I then set up extra, optional morning science lessons with my grade 9 class. I taught them all week and I managed to cover a lot of things on the syllabus that I had to skip over last year. I had them using a small scale to weigh rocks and then dropping them into cylinders (the only real pieces of science equipment that I have) with water to measure volume displacement and then calculate density. We also dropped nails into cups with water to look at water properties and observe rusting. I spent the first few afternoons calculating the average grades for all my grade 9 students (I’m their class teacher). They all did pretty well this year. Once again, I had an average of two thirds of my students pass my science classes, which is pretty good over here. Once I had all their report forms written, I began cleaning out my hut. I took a number of things down from the walls, trashed old clothes and lots of old training folders and papers. I set it all on fire behind my hut and tended it until there was very little left. It was a BIG fire. I spent time with my host family and started writing lesson plans for Term 3 lessons. I will be away for much of term 3 so I wrote a lot of lesson notes. I made a day trip to Basse to print off the tests I had typed and do some banking. Riding 30km to Basse and 30km back in one day left me pretty tired. On April 12th I packed up my hut again and left for Kombo . I caught a ride with Amadou, the driver, again. I joined a large group of volunteers and we all headed down together. My reason for travelling to Kombo this time was for an All Volunteer meeting. Every volunteer in The Gambia came to Kombo for three days of technical sessions and group meetings. I stayed with a former volunteer who is now living and teaching in The Gambia on her own. She has a small apartment in town, which has allowed me to avoid the very crowded Kombo transit house.
The sessions went well, though I ended up missing half of them. Since I am now officially the Peace Corps Volunteer Leader for education, there was a lot of work for me to do. Next week I will be joining Linda, the education sector director, on a week long trek around The Gambia to look at new sites for education volunteers. There were lots of forms and check lists to prepare, so I spent an afternoon at the office helping with that. This last Friday I missed the whole meeting day because I went to visit my new site; Tanji! In June I will leave the small, rural, up country village that I have been living in and move to a large town on The Gambia coast. Tanji is a very big fishing town with a large Lower Basic School (grades 1 to 6). There are over 1,000 students and 36 teachers, many of whom are women. This is very different from the school containing 300 students and 5 male teachers that I have spent the last two years at. We visited the house I will stay in. It’s a concrete, corrugate roofed, two room compound with a small, walled in back yard. Again, this is rather different from the one room, thatch roof hut with a huge back yard that I have been living in. My new host father and mother both speak decent English and work in the village. He helps manage the fishing industry there and she works at a local bank. Everyone seemed very friendly and receptive and excited. It was a little overwhelming to meet everyone, but I’ll get to know more when I move there in two months. Thankfully, I’ve had today off to do laundry and repack for the week long trek I’m about to embark on. Hopefully the trek will go well. I will write about the rest of April when I can.