After returning from my trip to Dakar in the middle of January, I got right back to work at the Peace Corps office and at my school in Tanji. Sunny was still away in India, eating delicious food, riding elephants, and attending her friend’s wedding. I continued to work on the library at my school and travelled up to the office to attend various Grant Committee and Volunteer Advisory Committee meetings. Sunny returned from her trip at the beginning of February and visited me for a little while. I signed up for and sat through the Foreign Service Officer’s test in early February and was invited to a pot-luck hosted by the embassy. With all my work at school and the approaching FSOT, I had no idea that Super Bowl Sunday was approaching. I did not get to watch the game, though other volunteers got together in Fajara and stayed up late to watch it. This last weekend I travelled back up country to visit my former site in Suduwol and my former host family in Sarre Alfa. It had been 8 months since I left. It was really good to see a lot of my students, teachers, and friends again. Sunny tagged along so that I could show her what my old site had been like. I was happy to see that most of my projects have lasted (such as the school libraries and clubs), though others had not (such as my garden). Related pictures are posted above. I just received a new camera, since my old one had finally had enough of Africa and decided to stop working. Expanded stories are below. Thanks, again, to anyone taking the time to read over this!
My work at Tanji Lower Basic school continues to be exciting, though the amount of time that I spend at the school is no where near as consistent or as abundant as the time I used to dedicate to Suduwol Basic Cycle school. However, I have made significant progress with the school library. All of the books have now been catalogued and organized. I used cardboard signs and colored tape labels to indicate book categories. I brought a hammer and nails to school and made an additional book shelf out of wood planks taken from broken desks. I pulled together a gang of students to bring newer desks and chairs into the library. I continue to use insecticide spray to keep the termites at bay, but it now seems like the tide has turned in my favour in this ongoing battle against these tiny, book eating monsters.
Near the end of January, a desk official from the Peace Corps Washington office paid a visit to The Gambia Western Region volunteers and graced my new library with her presence. She seemed impressed and it was good for me to receive feedback from an experienced PC official (who was also a returned PC volunteer). I recently had a meeting with the teachers of the four grade 5 sections at Tanji Lower Basic school and we have implemented a “library period” into their weekly schedules. My aim to is just get books into the hands of students and help them to start reading through them!
I took the Foreign Service Officers Test in early February. It was hosted by our local embassy, which made it very convenient to take. There were some technical difficulties; the internet cut out a few times, but at least the power stayed on. Overall, I thought the test went smoothly.
This last weekend, I decided to travel to Upper River Region to visit my old school in Suduwol and stay with my old host family in Sarre Alfa. On the Thursday before the trip, I travelled up to Fajara to attend a pot luck dinner hosted by the embassy, which my fellow Peace Corps Volunteer Leaders and I had been invited to. It was really nice to meet the embassy staff, as well as other Americans working in The Gambia. The food was amazing. I fear we made fools of ourselves by sticking around and wrapping up a lot of the left over food in tin foil and slipping it all into our bags to take back to the other hungry volunteers at the PC transit house.
On Friday morning I woke early and made it to the first ferry. While jostling through the crowd to walk onto the ferry, I caught site of a man named Amadou. Amadou is a set-plaus and van driver that I used to frequently ride with between Basse and Barra. During my second year I had loaned him a large amount of money, which he had yet to pay back to me. He looked a little surprised to see me, though we greeted each other amicably and I managed to get a seat in his set plaus. He did not ask me for the fare, so I deducted the usual 300 Dalasi cost of the ride from what he owed me and we agreed to try to work off the rest of the money in the future.
I reached Basse in the early afternoon and walked out of the town. Though it had been 8 months since I left, I had visited Basse more recently on treks and for Halloween. I met up with Sunny and other VSO and TOSTAN volunteers at a local restaurant run by a Nigerian. It was Sunny’s birthday, so I produced a large plate of brownies that I had made in Fajara and smuggled up to Basse. The brownies were swiftly consumed by all the volunteers and I made my way to the Basse transit house. I spent that afternoon piecing together a functioning bike from the various spare and abandoned parts that were at the house. I managed to compiled a bike that only had two good gears and one good break, but that was enough for me. I rode into town and bought a few gifts for the Chams (my former host-family); fabric and yarn for Maimuna, a sharp knife for Baby, Kola nuts for Mamasamba, Attaya and sugar for Omar, beans and minties for the children. While shopping around town, I ran into a former grade 9 student of mine, as well as the host father of a now returned volunteer that I had often visited, and a teacher from the Sarre Alfa Lower Basic school. I spent the evening with Sunny, packing and preparing for our trip up-country.
On Saturday morning, Sunny and I loaded up our bikes and headed out. We stopped in down-town Basse to get breakfast. I went to Komo, a lady who sells Munny (coos porridge) and gosse gerte (rice porridge with groundnuts, sugar, and sour milk) out of large plastic buckets on the side of the road. After eating, Sunny and I set out for Sarre Alfa. It was a windy, dry day, but we managed to cover the 25 kilometers to Sarre Alfa in just under two hours. The road had recently been flattened by a Senegalese paving company, so the ride was much smoother than I remember it being in the past. I had forgotten to call the Chams that morning, so we caught them a little by surprise; Maimuna had been doing laundry and Mamasamba had been waiting on the road for my arrival. Either way, the children went crazy and Maimuna clapped and danced. They had not yet prepared my old hut for our arrival. The Chams quickly opened up the hut and swept it out. They are now using it as storage for their groundnuts and coos. However, they put a straw mattress on the floor for us. The walls and roof looked a little run down, though the murals I had painted on the walls were still visible. The back yard fence was falling down, so we did not have much privacy. My tire swing had been taken down, but the bath tub was still there. I gave out my gifts to the Chams and talked to them in my now rusty Fula. I learned that a lot of the children had gone through the usual cold season illnesses, but were all better now. Mamasamba had also made a trip to Basse to have a cataract in his left eye removed. Beyond there, village life seems to have continued on as usual for them. Mamasamba had harvested a good amount of rice, coos, and groundnuts from his fields and sold off some of it. Maimuna and Baby continue to cook and care for all the children. Mamasamba and Omar are now looking for mason work, though there has not been much to find. Sunny and I bathed and ate lunch with the Chams (we had some excellent Domadaa).
We then walked around the village. They had recently re-painted the village mosque, which looked really impressive. I visited the local shop that I often went to and got two free Fanta’s from the Mauritanian owner, Mutaar. The shop that Mutaar ran was the one that I always bought eggs, bread, sugar, and powdered milk from. It was also where I would often go after my long afternoon runs to get a bag of cold water from the small fridge he ran in the corner of the shop. We walked to the Sarre Alfa Lower Basic school and peaked in the windows of the library that I had helped put back together. It looked like it was still being used, which I was happy to see. We also walked over to visit Isatou Bah, a Senegalese woman whom I had tutored in English for almost a year. It was really nice to see her again.
Sunny and I then got back on our bikes and rode up to Suduwol, where I found a lot of the teachers that I had worked with sitting outside the teacher’s quarters. We sat and chatted with them and I asked about how things were going at the school. They walked us down to the library that I had spent so much time in and opened it up for me. I was very impressed with what I saw. The books were still organized in their cabinets and there were many more posters on the walls. Another teacher, Mr. Sanneh, was continuing to run my library club and hosting weekly vocabulary tests and spelling games. Some students had written “thank you Mr. Cham” letters and pasted them on the wall, which I found to be overly flattering of me. The teachers who showed me the library, Mr. Ceesay and Mr. Dukuray, also took me by the school garden, which looked really good. They had several garden beds going and lots of big banana trees. Sunny and I stayed at the school and talked with Mr. Ceesay, and other students who had come by, while Mr. Ceesay made Attaya. I met Mr. Ceesay’s wife and his 2 year old son.
As evening approached, Sunny and I biked back to Sarre Alfa and decided that we would clean out the bath tub and fill it up. We swept out the leaves and fetched about ten buckets of water, all while the Chams watched us and remarked on how crazy we were. We put on bathing suits and sat in the tub, which was fun but it eventually got too cold outside for it to be comfortable. We ate a dinner of coos and groundnut sauce with the Chams. Istaou Bah brought over a big bowl of salad with onions and vinegar. It was quite delicious. We slept on the straw mattress and I prayed that no mice had yet found their way into the hut to eat into the bags of the rice and groundnuts that were around us!
On Sunday morning we woke up feeling stiff but well rested. We ate munny (coos porridge) with the Chams. Isatou Bah again brought us a bowl of food; this time it was gosse (rice porridge) that had bananas mashed into it. It tasted like banana custard; amazing. After eating we biked back to the school in Suduwol. There I met with the head teacher, Mr. Badgie (who had been the deputy head back when I taught at the school). I had Mr. Badgie fill out a “volunteer site suggestion form” so that Suduwol could be considered for another volunteer. Though there have now been four volunteers that have served at this site, I still think that it could be a good site for education volunteers, because there are many schools in the surrounding area. That being said, Suduwol Basic Cycle school seems to be doing quite well on its own now. With the form done, we bid our farewells to the teachers and biked back to Sarre Alfa.
At 6am on Monday morning I said good bye to Sunny and walked through the cold darkness to the Basse car park with two other volunteers. We rode a set plaus back to Barra and made very good time. We hopped on the ferry and before I knew it I was back in Kombo. I stopped off at the PC office to repack and check my mail. I went to over to MRC to play ultimate Frisbee, as I usually do on Mondays. I returned to my site in the evening and ate a quiet dinner with Bintou and Almami. I told them about my trip to upper river region and caught up with events in Tanji. I slept very well that night, after my long weekend journey.
I now have three months left. I’m beginning to harden out my post-PC plans and I’m getting excited to see my family and friends again. If you took the time to read through this, I thank you.