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Echo’s Travel Diary

Wednesday, 23 Jan 2008

Location: Gambia

MapOkay 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.