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Echo's African Adventures

Welcome to my latest blog. This one is not so much about travelling adventures but rather tales of my experiences moving to and living in Africa. Hopefully I will be able to provide everyone with entertaining stories and a good look at my life as I begin it and get settled in The Gambia. I hope you enjoy living vicariously through me and I look forward to hearing from everyone while I am here and who knows within these pages I may convince a few of you that you too need to come here.

Diary Entries

Friday, 25 January 2008

Location: Gambia

I last left off on a description of the compounds, pit toilets and the first part of our morning. Now the stories continue...
So like I said we left off at Tracy throwing candies at a screaming mob of children and were rescued shortly after my backpack. After we left this compound we returned to the compound where we were sleeping to eat breakfast and have coffee. This was the beginning of when I began to feel like I was in a zoo. While we walked from the original compound to ours the kids just gathered around us yelling Twobob and asking for candies, pens, anything you name it. Instead of the group dwindling as we walked it seems that rumour of our presence was spreading faster than our walking speed and kids were coming our from all over. By the time we reached our compound we probably gathered about 50 kids, which Sidi proceeded to try to lock out of his compound so that we could eat in peace.

He was fairly successful in keeping out most of the kids but the kids of the family compound were an exception to this rule. Many of them would sit or stand about 2 feet from in front of us and just stare. Most of the small children do not learn English until they reach middle school so none of them could talk to us all they would do was watch every move we did. I have to be honest, it was fairly uncomfortable. After we ate, the boys decided that it was time to begin the tour of the village. We headed out and started walking around.

Our first stop was the compound of a fairly famous (in Gambia) Marabou. Just so you all know a Marabou is a shaman and many people go to see them for medicine, spiritual guidance, juju to protect them against evil spirits, or juju to give evil spirits to someone else. This particular compound is a very original one as it has the largest round mud hut in the Gambia. Usually mud huts are small one room buildings but this particular one is huge and has many smaller rooms inside. No one is really allowed to visit this compound unless they are accompanied or invited by one of the members of the family, which we were. However, no one but the family is allowed inside as there is apparently some really powerful juju that could kill you if you come into contact with it or even look at it. It was a pretty cool hut but I do wish that we could have gone inside it.

After we looked at the compound and took pictures one of the boys from the family compound we were staying at brought us a donkey cart. This was the highlite of my trip kind of cause I have wanted to ride on a donkey cart since I knew I was going to the village. I even asked the boy if I could drive the cart and he handed over the reigns immediately. However, driving a donkey cart is the equivalent to riding a trail horse, you really don't need to lead it as they know where they are going (except when you are close to their house cause then they just want to go home). So Mino, Tracy and I piled on the donkey cart and headed out to the rice patties. A donkey cart is slower than if you were walking so it was a very hot experience but I guess it was kind of good that we were on the cart cause very slowly the hordes of children following died down because it was too hot for them and none of them wanted to walk. It took almost 45 minutes until we reached the ends of the rice fields cause they are huge. We got off our cart and walked around.

Right now the fields are dry and it is rice harvesting season. The women tend the fields mainly but now that all the other crops are finished the men sometimes help. This is where my ranting will begin. I am pretty sure that everyone has seen my photos of the beautiful rice bundles that the women make. This is how they harvest the rice in order to keep it for the whole year. However, the downside of the way they harvest it is that it takes them a long time and these poor women have way to many jobs to do in a day. It is great that the men help as well but when the men help they do not have the same patience as the women so they just cut the rice and throw it into a big pile, which means that the women have to go out and gather it, take it back to the house and pound it within a few days or all the rice will spoil. So really, the men don't help too much with the harvesting of the rice cause they just create more work for the women.

We walked around for a while in the fields, looking and the small boys that we did have with us decided to go for a swim in the shallow water that feeds in from the river. This village is lucky as they have access to the river from their village. This means that many travelling fisherman come to stay in their village to go out daily to catch fish, which they can then sell to the local people.

This will be continued after report cards...

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

Location: Gambia

Okay so yesterday I told you all about our arrival in the village, which if you recall was not that exciting to read. It was like arriving at any destination that you would go to for a weekend away. Well I guess that is not totally true. First off all this was my first real experience with a Gambian compound (not counting Tobasky at Mino's cause that was only for half a day).

The compound itself can be described as a fairly simply constructed house. It is rectangular in shape and was on the left side of the compound. It consists of 4 rooms, which all have a door that lead to the outside of the building onto a veranda. Guess I shouldn't give it such a fancy name like veranda but it is a covered porch. When you walk through the outside door you enter a small room, really only big enough for a four seater dining room table and not a very fancy table at that but with enough room that you could sit and still walk around comfortably. However, there is no dining room table but rather a coffee table in the corner that has a couple of books on it and a cd player that only works when they have batteries (as there is no electricity). Inside that room there is a door that leads to the back room again about the same size that has a bed along one wall and a chair in the corner. Sidi did bring us in a small coffee table so that we could put our stuff on it and eat off of it when we ate inside.

The bed was quite big but was made of straw so just a little more comfortable than sleeping on the concrete floor. However, the first night I spent there I didn't even notice the uncomfortableness of the bed, as I was sooooo tired when I went to sleep that night. Luckily I thought ahead and brought a blanket from home cause there was no blankets to be seen. Going through that room took you to the next door that led out to the "backyard" or the shower area. This was a closed in space surrounded by the old tin that had come off of the old roofs that was replaced. In the corner was a dug out area with a wooden floor placed above it that you showered over. The shower itself consisted of a small bucket with a tin can that you could use to dump the water.

The water was not available in the house and had to be hauled from a little bit of a distance but because we were all Twobobs (including the two Gambian men with us) there was always a small boy and a wheelbarrow on hand to go fetch water for us. The shower itself was very nice though cause at night when you took a shower to get the dust of the day off of you, you took a shower underneath the full moon and the stars and since there was no lights around you it was very nice (except for the fact that the water was really cold).

Okay so you are all wondering now I bet, well where is the toilet? The toilet was in front of the building behind yet another wall of old tin roofing and yep you guessed it…pit toilet. Well for all of you who have no idea what a pit toilet is, it is exactly what its name is. It is a cement pad with a hole in it about the size of a coffee can. In fact it is actually really clean and smells less than going into an outhouse. However, I made one small mistake, I forgot to pack enough tissue to take care of myself for the whole weekend and it is not easy to find in the village shops seeing as no one uses it. Yep you heard me right; I did the Muslim thing and used my left hand. Now this was truly an experience for me as I could never quite understand the concept of using a bidet or water to wipe yourself and then pull your pants back on while you are wet. Surprisingly enough it actually is quite clean and you really don't look like you wet yourself (which I thought I would). The hardest part I did find though was hitting the hole perfectly. As most of you know I can camp, I can go to the bathroom in the woods, I can squat and not pee all over myself, however, I cannot accurately hit a hole while squatting. For the most part I could aim fairly close but I was never a perfect shot. This is definitely one of those times that I wished that I had mom's handy dandy traveling pee helpers. (For further explanation you should all ask Penny). I did quite well though surviving the pit toilet and I have to say that using water really isn't that bad to wipe yourself but you must remember to use your left hand.

Sorry about the long toilet story but I know that you were all asking the same question and would feel somewhat ripped off if I didn't fill you in on that part.

Shortly after walking up and before my first cup of Nescafe or Ataya we headed off to the families original compound to take part in prayer. This was a very interesting experience seeing as all of the people in the village were gathered at their various family compounds to pray and had not known that there were new people let alone white people in their village so picture the following. We walked into a compound where the men and the boys are all sitting on mats in front of the man leading prayer, the women are all on the outer sides sitting with the small girls. Four Twobobs, two white and two black walk in. Immediately people were displaced so that we could take one of the benches, which is placed right beside the mats that all the men and boys are sitting on and we are told to sit. Everyone is praying in a language that we don't understand and Mino is trying to fill me in on what is going on quietly. We were quite the distraction, we were the perfect excuse I am sure that every young boy looks for to stop praying and that is what we were. Instead of watching and listening to the man leading prayers the young boys watched us as well as all of the women who were looking directly at us.

Prayer lasted for about 1 hour and we spent this time in direct sunlight, it was at this time that I wished that I was supposed to sit with the women because most of them were sitting under the verandas of the compound surrounding the prayer. Finally when it was over Tracy decided the brilliant thing to do encouraged by Mino was to hand out some of the candies that we brought with us, well it was a nuthouse. Never ever ever bring candies out of your backpack and expect to give it to the children in an orderly fashion. The children seriously became animals and were hurting each other and fighting just to get the candy. It took Mino and four other boys to get us out of the mob. First my backpack was grabbed from me by Mino so that everything would not go missing and then after Tracy and I were removed from the crowd of boys. This little episode began our day in the village. After this point all of these children followed us everywhere we went. It wasn't just the candy that did it, it was also the fact that we were white tourists, which is not a common occurance in their village. After this experience I decided that I was never going to give children candies in the villages at all ever again.

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

Location: Gambia

Well as you all know I went away for a weekend getaway. Yep a quick little vacation away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Instead of heading to the nice little cabanas on the beach I chose to head off upcountry to the village.

This is not an easy task as you can't just drive to a village, show up and stay in the local hotel, you must go with someone who has a village. Fortunately, I knew just the person so Tracy, myself, Mino and his brother Kara headed off to their mother's village. Mino and his brothers were all born in the city and most of them have no been to the village in ten years so it was a perfect opportunity to go so Mino and Kara could see family and Tracy and I could see a village. Well getting to the village is not an easy task. I left work at 11:30 and headed home to pack. The beginning of the trip was smooth sailing as I packed, we departed, crossed the ferry rather quickly but that was when the problems started. Across from Banjul is Barra the starting place for any journey. We hurried off the ferry and into the gelli-gelli (big vans or small buses) area. Everyone shouts at you and then when you tell them where you are going they shove you into the proper gelli gelli and you go as soon as the thing is full. Well the gelli gelli that we got into was not full and did not fill up with the first ferry full of people that we came in with so we had to wait for a second ferry, which means that our ferry had to load, cross, load and return to our side, this takes about 1 hour and 45 minutes. So we waited and waited and then finally Mino started talking to someone and found out that they put us on the wrong gelli gelli so we got off and switched. This was a little better cause the other one we got into had more people in it which is a good sign so that it will fill quicker and leave quicker but unfortunately when we got to the gelli gelli the "good" seats were gone. So we decided to take a chance and sit in the very back where there was a little bit more room for our legs but after we sat and the gelli gelli started to fill we realized that three people had to sit in the seat that was for two people and this made the trip not very fun. It was an old gelli gelli as well so it didn't move very fast. All in all the trip started crossing the ferry at about 1:30 and end with us reaching the village finally at about 10:30, nine hours. (just to give you an idea, Mino and I returned home on Sunday in 4). It is a total crapshoot with the transportation but hey that is part of the adventure hey.

Before we got to the village we stopped in the closest town which is called Soma to go to Mino's uncle's guesthouse. I was in heaven as they had the coldest and the only beer that I had all weekend. It was a treat especially after travelling for that length of time. Someone arranged a taxi for us to take us to the village so we killed time there first and then bought some Afra (BBQ sheep, it is really good, sorry Leisa) and then headed out to the village.

Of course when we arrived it was already quite late so most of the village was quiet. We went to the first compound of Mino's grandma's brother and they told us where we were staying. We took off and went to Sidi's (I think he was a cousin). We were greeted and shown our rooms and then they pulled out the food. It was wonderful, there was a huge pot of rice with fish and cassava waiting there for us. So we ate our Afra first and then had the fish. After that we went outside and the boys made Ataya for us. It is a fantastic green tea that is made in a very ritualistic way. I will write about that one in a bit and show you pictures after.

We sat up and visited our first night, Mino's cousin luckily spoke English so it was nice that we could chat with him. After a couple of hours we all were exhausted so we took turns having cold bucket showers before going to bed.

I am leaving off here and will write more tomorrow.

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

Location: Fajara, Gambia

Hello everyone. Okay so I bet you are all anxiously checking on the website to see my village pictures. Sorry there will be none of those just yet. I actually didn't go to the village last week as it was not the best timing. Everyone there is still expecting us though and since this friday is a holiday we are going to go when we are not quite as rushed.

Speaking of holidays the Gambia is full of so many of them. It is crazy, not only does everyone here celebrate Muslim holidays but the Christian holidays are celebrated as well and to top it off because we are an american school we also observe some of the American holidays. It really isn't too too many holidays but it kind of feels like it at times. Plus another crazy thing here is that the President can call a holiday anytime he wants and has been known to do this first thing in the morning. For example this Friday is supposedly Muslim New Year and I am sorry but I can't spell the holiday name without any reference. However, Thursday apparently is the one year anniversary of the President finding a "cure" for AIDS so we think that he is going to call a holiday that day too because he is having a big program in Banjul starting at 8:30 in the morning and he is inviting the whole country to go. It is a little dissapointing that this claim is still alive and well but part of me wants to go to see just how many people go and see what this man is doing to justify his claim. It really is a scary claim to make in a country where AIDS is a problem. If I do go to that program I will definelty post pictures and video of that event.

One of the jokes that is running around the school though is that we shouldn't teach the days of the week the way that we teach them in North America or in the developed world in general. Instead we need to adjust our teaching so that instead of asking the students what day is the day after tomorrow and expect them to reply with a proper day of the week, instead we need to teach the students to say "Holiday"!!!!

I can't really complain though because I do in fact enjoy having the holidays and it will make travelling to the village a lot easier and more fun.

Enjoy the new pictures up and I will try to keep them coming.

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Recent Messages

From laurie
Echo....thanx for keeping us in the African loop!!!! I showed Ruby a pic of You and Mino. She asked why he was wearing a dress and said she couldnt really see his face.....thats my girl! All is well in the deep north...Ill call you soon!!!
lots of luv laurie
Response: Hehe. I told Mino the story and he thought it was funny. Tell Ruby I am getting a dress made for Leo and her dad... okay maybe not her dad just leo (little boys look so cute in them). I miss you guys a lot these days. Call me soon. Love you
From Leisa
Ok enough with the Sheep slaughterig pic's. And how dare you enjoy eating them!!!
Ha Ha!!
Response: Okay sorry...forgot about the love you have for those creatures.I promise I will lay off the dead sheep pictures and for you I will try to post some live ones again. They really aren't as cute as the North American sheep though.
From laureen mayer
Happy New Year! WRITE!!!
Life is looking great, warm and adventurous.
Response: Hello lady. I will try to write some time this week as I am excited to hear about your goings on as well. I will be posting village stories throughout the week so stay tuned. I miss you lady and looking forward to sharing lots of wine and laughs this summer. Hope you are well
From Penny
Happy Tamkharit
Response: Thanks, I passed on the greetings to the village while I was there. Mino was pretty excited that you are researching a learning about Gambia and Muslim culture. Today I will post the first installment of photos and stories. Thanks for being patient but you already got the behind the scenes information, hope grandma enjoyed the stories. Love you
From Amy
Merry Christmas and Happy Tobaski Echo to you too Echo!
From Cole

Wonderful pictures and stories. WOW. Ravishing!

From amy
HI Echo!! Your stories sound great and you do have the cutest little house, minus the unwanted monster. He was horrendous!!
From Lisa
Hey Lady,
I'm glad you are enjoying your experience. Sounds like things are pretty cool over there and you have settled in nicely. Maybe I can get out there and we can see that chimp sanctuary. I'm crazy busy here, and the only thing I am enjoying is teaching these dumb university students in Texas all about Darwin, monkeys, and hominids! Have got a few messages from Rodrigo in Ecuador in near-perfect English - go figure! Sly dude! Take care, and miss you lots...Lisa
From Jen
I want a kid named Easy & one named Johnnyshoes* and a dog named Bumster!

*an Inuit kid Leah met at the hospital
Response: And you can have it sister. I know the name Easy is great...Johnnyshoes that is different too. I am glad I could be a part of the naming process of your future family.
From Jen
Hey Echo--love the blog and the stories. You had me in heebie jeebies at the mention of giant cockroaches would've prefered spiders first personally. Bumster would make a great name for one of those dogs that loves your leg a little too much...

Take care adventurer, xo Jen
From Jodi MacDougall
Hey Echo. I have been keepin gup with you through your blog and it sounds like you are having an amazing time. your story about the orphanage brought tears to my eyes as I read it. Take care and I can not wait to hear more.

Response: I have to apologize for the lack of stories. First year is crazy so I have been told and I am experiencing it first hand. I have more story to go along with the first orphanage story so get the kleenex the next time you check back. It was very sad and I had a hard time holding back the tears while I was holding these amazing babies and toddlers.
From gayle
hi echo,
I am curious to hear how it is going in the classroom... I am working hard this year, but domestic bliss is good. I hope to hear from you soon. love gayle.
From ana (mexico)
Muy buenas fotos!
Espero que disfrutes tu trabajo y te la estes pasando bien.
Nos vemos pronto espero!
Cuidate y ANIMO!!
From Jared
Monsters under the sink, you could maybe turn that into a movie or something i think. one month in the books, starting to get settled in yet? i have to admit, i enjoy teaching only one subject and not having to plan for all subjects all day long. i too have been having trouble getting on my site lately, trying to find the balance is hard. hopefully time will start to open up soon, im seeing windows opening up all the time now! cuidate
From Alex
Hey Lady!

Your track out there has started off pretty well from the sounds of it. I empathize on the monster spider problem..I moved into a basement and it has oodles of spiders which I am slowly squishing into oblivion. I have a bunch of links still from teaching ESL in Korea so if you need something of that sort just let me know. Also, if you need for me to look for books to send out, give me a list of some subjects and once I have a job I'll go around hunting for them and send them to you. Hugs from Vancouver,
From Angie
Hey lady...I finally got a chance to sit down, read everything and look at your pictures. Looks like you're settling in quite nicely. Is the spare room for me?? LOL I miss you tons and I will call you again on the weekend...LOVE YOU!
Response: I am so happy that you checked out the house. Isn't it great. Spare room sure is for you. Try and call me when you get up in the morning? See now you can phone me first thing in the morning and it won't affect me at all.
From Janice Way
Hello Echo.

It is wonderful to read all about your life at the moment and yes, even the challenges of teaching your 13 students. Just so you know, i am now on facebook although I don't know how to do much on it yet. I am also not sure how to get back to this website again once i get off. It is sure a good thing that I teach Kindergarten as they don't have to know how to do all of this computer stuff yet. :) Hope to talk to you soon.

Response: I am so happy that you found the site and me on facebook. That is awesome, now we can really keep in touch.
From cole
Too long without an update!!!

Response: Here you go Cole.I will try to keep you guys posted more often,have patience trying to find that balance between personal and work lives.
From Cole
Hi Echo>>>>

Spot on, stiff upper lip..hang on. ..Here..have a shot of gin.
Ah, now isn't that better?

I'll be better when I hear more from you!


From Lisa
Hey Lady,

Fascinating stories - still waiting to hear about the monkey's fate (and what species??). Sounds like you are taking it all in in true Echo-fashion! Things in Texas are swamped, but beginning to enjoy teaching myself (though Texan adults are worse than children - just goin' out on a limb here). Miss you lots but look forward to your updates...
Love ya, Lisa
P.S. green plates, eh? I'll have to look into this in TX
Response: I am sorry still going to find out about the monkeys. Apparently there is a park with tons of them in them here and if you take peanuts they will come down and eat out of your hands (I was told...not impressed. No monkeys were harmed in the adventure though. I can't wait to write more but you have to have patience as I have little time to write (busy planning).
From rubio
oye chica, how was your first day? i just had mine today, there are only 15 kids in my class, absolutely unreal!! a chatty bunch but should be pretty good. great to see some fotos of what your class looks like there, im definitely excited to see it once you get it set up. i want to put some fotos of mine here soon, once i get it fully done (the school has been under heavy construction all month and i have had no time or classroom for that matter). radical, how many hours ahead of TO are you? thats the timezone im in, so we should definitely try to connect on skype. besos de republica dominicana
Response: Hey my friend, I look forward to chatting with you soon too. First day is on Wed so I will keep you posted. I am looking forward to seeing your site when you get classroom pictures up.
From Penny
OK! This is enough silent treatment from you. Do you not know how many people log in to hear something new every hour. Get with it girl
Response: I will try. I have just been really busy and the internet has been super slow......sorry!
From Kerry
wow. congratulations echo!!! a little house, all your own. a 2 year lease heh? that's very, uh, committed of you! i can't wait to see picutres, try to include ones of the neighbourhood too, as the pictures i have in my head are probably WAY off! love to read your updates.
Response: I am going to be the photo journalist as soon as I move in so everyone can see. I did forget to mention that my house is also directly across the street from a fantastic Indian restaraunt as well. I love it here and two years gives you enough time to come visit!!!
From laurie
Echo????? What, its 1:30 here so if you are 5-6 hours ahead, where is my daily Echo fix!!!!
Ill check back excited for you, STILL!!!
Response: I really think that you need to start planning to come here. I don't have a bathtub in my house so no worries on Leo drinking the water!!! I miss you but I am glad that you are reading my adventures. Give everyone a hug from me and I can't wait to show you pictures of the fabric I just bought. I was going to make it into a dress but I don't want to cut it....I think you know how that feels. Love you too.
From Cole
You are a very good writer! I really find myself gripped and completely immersed in your stories.
Hmm...yes...don't need those nasty negative people at embassies. Remain yourself a paradigm of positive energy and I am sure Africa will reply.

toot toot.

Response: I am glad that you are enjoying my writing, and thanks! I am having fun sharing my stories and they just seem to be coming, besides this is way better than keeping a personal journal.