"Saying goodbye was really hard because I really grew close to my host family. The last few nights I managed to play and have a lot of fun. One night the girls and I had a tickle fight and they dressed me up like a witch. Then they tied me up and said I couldn't leave. It was really nice to be a part of their family. They hold a special place in my heart now. I could not have asked for a better family." - Jessica Boling, Class of 2007
January 16: I am just getting settled into the TAYAM office. I spent a week at CRS getting aquatinted with the malaria staff. I will be working closely with them. The TAYAM office is small compared to the CRS office but it is nice. I have my own computer and desk. TAYAM only has 9 staff including the secretary and driver, so you can see TAYAM is a lot smaller to CRS.
I met with the project manager at TAYAM and we still have not finalized what I will be working on. Our expectations differed greatly. The project manager thought that I was a grad student coming in with a lot of experience with monitoring and evaluation. He was expecting me, by the looks of my scope of work, to create an M&E system for all of TAYAM projects. Needless to say I felt a little over my head because we only spent one week in class discussing M&E.
The malaria staff back at TAYAM reassured me that I would not be doing that and I should just relax. They said, I should not feel pressured and my tasks should be simple. They told me that I would be assisting people on the M&E system but not developing the whole thing on my own. That said that would be crazy, so I feel a little better. So I am waiting to see where I can assist.
It is hard because I am not exactly what they expected. The project manager was very hopeful because TAYAM is very unorganized right now and small and could really use organization right now and the staff. I do not think I could comfortably perform any of the tasks they assigned to me alone and I think that is what they were hoping for when I came to the office. On the other hand it has been really interesting for me to see the words on the papers come to life and actually be implemented into the communities.
I was surprised when I arrived at my house and no one was sleeping under bed nets. The windows all have screens on them though and they spray my room almost every night for me. I asked Kathleen if her family slept under nets, because there is a baby in her house, and she said no as well. I have been in a few houses in the Kanifing area and I have not seen that many nets. I looked at the data at work and discussed this with the malaria team and they explained to me that the Banjul area and Kanifing Municipality areas were the hardest areas to target because of the affluent attitudes. They are proposing major behavioral changes.
I had this idea though that when I got to Africa I would see Malaria everywhere. All the readings said malaria is a major health problem. I was somewhat surprised when I did not see it everywhere. I had only heard of one case, so I had assumed that maybe it wasn't a problem for my family but my host sisters explained to me though that all of them have had malaria multiple times though. They described it as horrible and that they hated it. I asked what they did when they got it and they said they had to get shots in their butts and they hated that even more. Then they reenacted how one of the sisters was acting when she had to get a shot in her butt and were making fun of her. They all found it very humorous.
I am staying with a wonderful family. They are Catholic, which is out of the norm here in the Gambia. Catholics make up only 5% percent of the religious population and Muslims make up about 90%. It is odd though since I live with a catholic family I am exposed to mostly Catholics and it seems like Catholics are the dominant religion. My host parents are Tom and Joanna Mendy. Joanna works at CRS and is the project manager for the HIV/AIDS project. Kathleen will be working with her. They have three daughters: Tina, 16, Odile, 11 and Cecilia 7. All three daughters attend school. Tina is getting ready to take her final exams, so she is studying hard. They family also has two house girls. One girl is named JoMa and she is about 17, but Joanna explained to me most of these girls don’t know their birthdates. It is very odd for me to have people cleaning up after me. They come in my room everyday and clean my room and make my bed. This is very foreign to me, because I am usually really messy and leave it for myself to pick up later.
I am having a blast with my family though. They are really trying to show me a good time. They want me to experience The Gambia. Last week we went to a wedding for their cousin. They had an African dress made for me. It was very fun. It was a catholic wedding so it was pretty long. We caught the tail end of the ceremony but then we went to reception and then the dinner. There was also a dance after the dinner but we were tired and went home early. The weddings here are huge! There were so many people at the wedding and reception. I can’t believe that they have so many events for the guests too.
Last week was the Muslim holiday Tobaski. I feel a bit ignorant because I had never heard of this holiday before coming here. We got two days off of work for this holiday. It is the biggest holiday for the Muslims. They go all out during this holiday; they buy all new clothes, repaint their houses and have a big feast. My host father's childhood friend is catholic but married to a Muslim and so we hung out with them for the feast! Intermarriages are very common and accepted here.
The holiday celebrates the sacrifice of Abraham. In the story Abraham is asked to sacrifice his one and only son. He obeys God and goes on his way to kill his son but right when he is about to kill his son an angel stops him with a ram to kill in the place of his son. So Abraham sacrifices the ram. So the Muslim people commemorate this by sacrificing a sheep. So every Muslim family that has enough money will sacrifice a sheep. The man of the house will slaughter the sheep. When I sacrifice I mean they slit the throat. For some reason I wanted to watch this so the family arranged with the neighbor that I would watch it. I went with Tina to watch but on I had to turn away when they slit the throat. I thought it would be one fast clean slit and it would be over. I thought wrong. The knives are very dull and so they have to basically saw at the neck for a while and the sheep is still moving and making a lot of noise. It was rather disturbing. Since I turned my head on the first slaughter they family decided to take me over to watch another sheep get killed immediately afterwards. So I watched a little more this time. One thing that surprised me was that the man who slaughtered the sheep was wearing very nice white Muslim clothing and did not get a drop of blood on his clothes. I was impressed because I manage to get my khaki skirt dirty every day, just while I am eating.
After they slaughter the sheep they skin it and cut it up to give away to other Muslim families who can't afford a sheep and to Christian friends. This was also a very interesting process to watch. Here in the Gambia the Muslim and Catholics have a very good relationship. I was very impressed by this. During Tobaski the Catholics celebrate the holiday with the Muslims and during Christmas the Muslims celebrate with the Catholics.
I have never seen so much meat in my life, though. Tom and Joanne had received about 30 pieces of meat by midday. Needless to say we will be eating sheep for a while. During Easter the Catholics make a pudding and do the same thing as the Muslims. They deliver meat to all their Muslim friends that gave them meat. I really admire The Gambian mentality regarding religion. I was talking to our Muslim neighbor about the scripture for the sacrifice of Abraham and he told me that it is in the Bible, Koran, and The Torah. He was explaining to me that we all believe in the same God and so no one should be judging another religion. He also said that it is not humans job to judge, that it is Gods job to judge us. I really like this mentality because a lot of times back home in my church, the pastor will go off on his Christian pedestal about how Christianity is the one true religion and that we are going to go to Hell if we don't believe that it is. He tends to degrade other religions too and I find that hard to deal with. I agree with our Muslim neighbor, it isn't our job to judge because we could never know what Gods plan is. This encounter with our Muslim neighbor expanded my knowledge of the Muslim religion. As an American I really don't know that much about the Muslims and I mostly associate the Muslim religion with the suicide bombers and Al Queda. I am thankful for this experience.
February 3: Last week I had the chance to travel up country to Tendaba to attend a workshop with CRS and the partners. Tendaba is a small tourist resort that is about 150 km east of Banjul. It took us about 4 and half hours to get there because of the roads. I had been informed that the roads were bad but I had no idea what to expect. The roads were fun at first because they were similar to the off-roading back home but after about 2 hours of this my stomach was not having fun. If the roads were bad for the CRS vehicles I can not imagine what it must be like for the locals to travel upcountry in the rusty vans.
Tendaba was a comfy little resort with cute bungalows to stay in. I did not get to stay in one though, but I did have a room to myself. It was also the first time I slept under a bed net while being here. I was surprised to hear that many of the people working on the Malaria project with CRS do not sleep under bed nets. During the workshop we discussed the fact that the project leaders need to practice what they preach otherwise people won't take us seriously.
The workshop was based on the Information, Education and Communication (IEC) and Behavioral Change Communication (BCC) strategies being implemented in the Malaria project. The workshop was very interesting and I learned a lot about communication and the steps to change. I was able to interact with the implementing partners during the workshop. I understand my project a lot better now and I know my co-workers better.
Since we arrived late at night I did not get to see the landscape, so on the way home I got to see the landscape and the villages close to the road. I will be excited to travel more upcountry. My boss told me that he would arrange a community outreach program upcountry so I can experience the village life. He told me to be ready to dance though. I just laughed because this should be interesting. I will be excited to go to the village and see the contrast between the city and the village.
I have been working on the annual report for TAYAM this past week. I am learning more about the kind of work they do and the challenges they face when trying to implement these programs. I did not realize that even with all the information about malaria people still chose not to use bed nets. Bed nets are considered unfashionable and primitive so many people will not use them. I can feel my American consumer driven mind trying to tackle this problem by trying to make the nets more "fashionable". I'm not sure that is ethical though.
I have started to realize that I am in a different country and I am going to have to adjust a lot more than I anticipated. Back home I thought I was a pretty flexible person but now that I am here I can see how much structure I had in back in the U.S. I feel myself becoming impatient with the relaxed attitude in the office. I also find it hard to get my work done without deadlines. I never thought that a language barrier would exist either, but I have had trouble communicating. We have different meanings for words and it is hard for people to understand me when I talk because I talk so fast. I know that even my parents back home have trouble understanding me.
I am enjoying the staff I work with. They are younger and fun to hang out with. They are helping me learn how to speak the local language and learn more about the culture. I have breakfast with them every morning. I am starting to really like ovaltine and powdered milk. I am thankful for all their kindness.
Janet is coming this week and I am going to try my hand at cooking. I feel so lazy compared to my sisters. Tina is 16 and she helps prepare most of the meals. They asked me if I knew how to cook and I told them that I could put things in the microwave and the oven, does that count. They just laughed at me. We usually have two full meals a day that are cooked from scratch. I do not know how they do it. I really need to learn how to cook.
February 19: Last week Janet came to visit. Her bags got lost in Dakar so she did not get to spend as much time here as she had planned but it was a good stay. She was able to visit where Kathleen and I worked. My family also arranged a dinner party for her so she could see how Gambians welcome people here. We prepared so much food for Janet. When they have parties here they party and they will not let anyone go hungry. Janet was able to try a few Gambian dishes and local drinks. She was also able to try some local Palm Wine. She really got a taste of the Gambian hospitality. I was happy that she was able to enjoy her first visit to The Gambia.
I have been working on the Annual report for TAYAM this last week. It has been harder than I thought. I am only reading about the activities and I have to somewhat deduce what is important and I am not always right. I have been noticing the difference in writing and details in the annual report. It is hard because the project director wants me to tell him if the writing and conclusions they have made seem right. It is hard to know if the lessons learned are good lessons or not when I was not present. I try to ask a lot of questions about the project and it seems to spur more details needed in the report.
This week I had the opportunity to split my time between TAYAM and another NGO. This is a Canadian organization called, Nova Scotia Gambia Association, (NSGA) that works in The Gambia and Sierra Leone. I had already met a lot of the staff at the recent workshops with the partners so it has been easy for me to switch. I am mostly going to be accompanying them on their implementation activities and observing. They have so many activities going on that it won't be hard for me to fill in there on my slow days at TAYAM. I wish I would have said something earlier because NSGA has so many interesting activities that I could have witnessed because they work all over The Gambia. TAYAM only operates in the south-western part of The Gambia.
This week I was able to help implement an activity at a local high school. I assisted a Canadian medical student on a sex-Ed review session. It was a pretty entertaining session not because of the subject we were speaking on, but because the kids are absolutely wonderful at presenting. For one of the presentations the students put on a 10 minute skit on how to say no to sex and how to put a condom on a banana. (This activity was not funded by CRS) The students were so talented. The girl sang for us for a good 5 minutes and the guy had the best facial expressions on his face. They were so much more mature about the subject matter than I would have guessed, too. I really enjoyed this session.
I received an article from a friend this week discussing Americas obsession with time and how it affects our relationships. I wrote my friend back with my observations of time here. It is very different here and something I have struggled with. I have been in Africa for a little over a month now. I thought I was a pretty flexible person in the U.S. but since I have been here I have been struggling with time. Time is, let's say, not important. I have never felt so uptight in my life. I am racing to get to work and get things done and people are strolling in an hour to four hours late. If a meeting starts at 9 don't plan on starting before 10 or 10:30 and breakfast is at 11:00. People kind of schedule in advance and if it doesn't follow through that is okay.
I've also noticed that if you don't give me a deadline I won't finish it as fast as I know I could. This idea of structure runs my life. I need structure to motivate me and keep me going. I have grown up in this culture obsessed with time, structure and planning and it has never stood out more than now. I crave the structure and the punctuality that the U.S. demands at times. It is hard because I never know where I am supposed to be and if I am late I feel like I am ruining my character or letting people down. The western culture has truly defined me in ways I would have never seen unless I left the culture.
Now let's talk about the people. I have to admit it is somewhat frustrating dealing with these issues of development and being so laid back about it. My western mindset wants to get as much done as possible in one day. I feel myself urging the people to get a move on with things. I almost feel like if we are ever going to make a difference in this country we are going to have to instill some of these western ideals regarding time. I feel my egocentric side coming out. It is something that I have been struggling with a lot here.
I am also very ashamed to talk about my financial support here because people my age here are supporting their families. My workers are baffled when I tell them that my parents are supporting me still and will never need my help in their lives. I have explained to them that my parents have been saving since they were my age and created special accounts for their retirement. This idea is so unfathomable to them. The poverty and infrastructure have started to rear its ugly head at me. At first I thought you could see poverty I thought that it was tangible, but it is much deeper than that. I have questioned many times, are these people poor partly because of their lack of motivation and inability to plan? Does it clash with our western culture? Is that why we have a hard time working alongside of these people? Do they need our structure and planning to make it in this world? So while we say structure makes us in impersonal and caught up in our work days, I also wonder how it is benefiting our country now. Is it benefiting our country? Is it better to be poor but have the freedom and relationships or is it better to live in a time driven world with all the material things that surround us. I guess it all comes down to what you define as happiness.
The writers also mentioned that people say "how are you" like a polite handshake in the U.S. and it is so impersonal. I love that people here take the time to say how they are. Not only do they take the time but they ask you in 5 different ways how you are doing. How is the day, how is the morning, how are you, are you alright, how was your weekend, are you alright. In this country it is impolite to enter the room and not shake hands with everyone and greet them with a handshake and ask how the day is, even if you have never seen them in your life. I was shocked by this politeness because I can enter the room full of people in the U.S. and not talk to some people the whole time I am there. It was hard to get used but it is something I hope to take back with me in the U.S. I noticed that when I first arrived I would treat the person as a thing and simply enter the room and start asking what they could do for me. It is nice to actually address the person. I do think it is sad that we are so busy with our lives that we can't take the time to ask how a person is doing, how their family is doing, or how their weekend was.
I do commend the people here because of the lack of infrastructure they do not have the time saving technology that we have in the U.S. They don't cook their meals in the microwave or shove it in the oven. Everything is cooked from scratch. They are required to wash their cars by hand every week because of the incessant dust. The dust also requires us to sweep and dust the house daily. We don't have a washer and dryer so we hand wash and air dry everything. It takes planning and a huge amount of time to get these things done. So while I say they lack the structure they have an incredible amount of structure in that is not easily seen by my western eyes.
I also consider what it would be like for someone from The Gambia to come to the U.S. I have had a slight glimpse of this from my freshman year roommate. She was born and raised in Mexico City and moved to Washington in 8th grade. She recently returned to the Mexico City only to find her home again. She told me that she likes the ambience more. It is more relaxed than the U.S. She found what I am struggling with here. This idea of time and what we do with it has become an issue that boggles my mind these days. It is interesting how it can change and how it defines us and the culture that surrounds us. I agree with what the writer concluded with, we do need to take more time to write poetry or whatever it is that gives us simple pleasures in our lives, we do only have one life and a limited time here on earth.
When I was preparing to leave for Africa I was preparing myself to see death and poverty. I was preparing to be broken by the amount of poverty and death that I would be in tears everyday. Yeah well, those info-commercials really skewed my mind of what Africa would be like. Death has been very prevalent here but it has been abstract. My family has attended a dozen or so funerals since I have been here. I was surprised because I have only attended a handful of funerals in my life and they managed to exceed that number in the first 2 weeks of my stay. Every night they would come home and leave to attend a funeral for one week straight. I asked how they died and they would usually say, old age, or they were sick. The answers were usually vague and I tried to not pry because I do not know the customs surrounding death here. I have noticed that it is not talked about as much or maybe it is because I did not know the person. At times it would seem as if they weren't surprised or it is just another person to die. It was like they were used to it. They could just be really strong and also I am only seeing one side of their life. I do not know what goes on in their heads or in their personal life. The area is so small and interconnected that if someone dies you are bound to know them in someway or another. The other day the phone rang early in the morning and it would not stop. When I got up they were complaining about the phone ringing early in the morning and how they know when the phone rings that early in the morning it is bad news, it usually means that someone has died. Luckily it wasn't the case this time but it is something that they have grown used to and fear at times. The people are also extremely respectful to the dead too, everyone will attend the funeral. I did not attend any of the funerals either because of the intensity and nature of the funerals. It was hard for me to feel the sympathy and the effects of the death because of the environment and the fact that I didn't know the person. It worried me a little bit that I handled all the death so nonchalantly.
The other night I was watching my favorite show Grey's Anatomy on the TV. and I found myself close to tears because of the death scene at the end of the show. I realized that death has been somewhat romanticized by our culture. I felt ashamed that I could only be affected by the death when it was glamorized and packaged by Hollywood. This next week I will travel to the hospitals to talk with mothers of children with malaria and I will be talking with families that have lost children to malaria. There will be no Hollywood cameras and no one to yell cut, this will be reality. I am nervous for my reactions.
I will, hopefully, be compiling documentation on these interviews that my organizations will be able to use during their malaria campaigns. Some people here treat malaria as the common cold. I was shocked by this because when I was preparing to come here, I was deathly afraid of malaria. I have been taking my medicine religiously and counting my mosquito bites. Am I a product of this American culture of fear, a fear of death? I know I am somewhat of a hypochondriac because my mother is a nurse but still why don't these people fear this disease. Do they view death differently? People are more relaxed, they don't understand the concept of stressed out I don't think. They were scared when I got a little bit stressed out the other day at work. They are close and caring but they also explained to me the other day that they don't talk about their problems openly with other people. We were talking about Jerry Springer, which they love here. I think because they don't have as much drama between people. The woman at my work said she wouldn't even talk to her best friend if she thought her husband was cheating on her. It is their business and there is no reason to drag other people into it. There is a fear of being stigmatized here I think. They are more dependent in some areas but more independent in other areas. The contrast is interesting.
My boss and I have been trying to develop some tools on informing people about preventing the disease before it can overtake your family financially and emotionally. I realized that part of my fear is because of the TV, the personal testimonies and hearing what could possibly happen to me. So my boss and I have developed these interviews with people where malaria has progressed really fast and because of accessibility they have had to face some serious consequences. I guess we are trying to highlight the reality of the disease because he feels that people are still not making the connection and from what I have seen, I agree.
I have been struggling with voicing my western ideas here. I worry about stepping on people's feet and coming off as egocentric. I also worry if my ideas are ethical or not. Will I be exploiting these mothers and families? Is it ethical to advertise these nets as fashionable to these people if it is saving their lives? I know that I am not trying to make money but save lives but at the same time I can't help but feel similar to those money hungry corporate people playing off of emotions. I feel that people need to be informed and they need to know the severity of malaria. I feel funny that I have to justify myself on here but it is something I have been struggling with.
The other thing that I have noticed is that in the western culture science dominates our society. We trust and value our scientific technology. I would never second guess my doctor. (okay maybe a little) I would be there in a heart beat to check if there was a lump on my body. I know that I am not invisible and I know there is like 50 million disease that all start with flu-like symptoms and your best chance at surviving them is early diagnosis. But people here don't trust their doctors and will only go when it becomes a huge problem. People also value respect. Even if my doctor was a complete jerk I still trust his judgment better than mine. But if you are rude here then you are no longer trusted. Many people have become discouraged about going to the hospitals because of the way the doctors and nurses treat them. I have heard stories about people being laughed at and treated as if they were dogs. It is a very interesting concept. I do agree though those doctors should be respectful and helpful and not laugh people out of the clinic. In my case I would say just switch doctors, which is what I do at home, but people here don't have that opportunity. So many won't even bother with the doctors and go to the pharmacist who often does not have the tools to diagnosis or use local herbal remedies and native doctors, or charms/prayers. I am starting to see the barriers and restraints that people are encountering here and it is frustrating.
March 10: Last weekend I had the opportunity to travel upcountry with Nova Scotia Gambia Association NSGA). NSGA travels all over the Gambia and puts on film shows in the small villages about Malaria and AIDS. We were able to have film shows in 3 villages.
I had an awesome time upcountry. It is a little more of what I expected my stay to be like. Life is much slower upcountry. I am a small town girl at heart so I really enjoy the country. Even though I was only about 40 minutes out of the greater Banjul area there was a vast difference. There are no horns blaring at you constantly for god knows what, no early morning hustle and bustle to get to work. I didn't have to worry about getting run over by a car because they pass so infrequently. There is no electricity or running water. I ate by candlelight, fetched my own water, and experienced the hole in the ground toilet/shower.
I could not understand the videos they were showing because they were in the local language. But to see the villagers' faces when they laughed was worth it. They really enjoyed themselves and the turn out was much bigger than I expected. We had at least 150 people show up every night. Some nights we had up to 300. The kids were great, too, because during intermission we played music and they danced and I joined them for a little while, but the Gambian music carries a different beat and it is rather hard for me to pick up on.
In light of the lent season, I have decided to be more giving (time and money) while I have been here. It was hard for me to give something up because I want to experience as much as I can here (fanta) and then I will need to take in everything I missed while I was away. First, let me say that I am so lucky that I have the opportunity to offer money and time to other people because I am realizing that not everyone has this opportunity. It is hard because I often find myself justifying my neglect to other poor people by saying, "Well I am here doing this work, isn't that enough?" But that doesn't take away from the guilt. I complain about being a white person and getting ripped off, but in reality I am not getting ripped off in American standards. I complain when I have to pay 2 dollars for a taxi ride rather than 17 cents. I have the money to pay these people but I still demand a lower price. I feel horrible. I also struggle when I am approached on the street by a beggar or handicapped person asking for money, I hand them money but when I turn the corner there is a whole street lined with beggars, children and handicapped people. Who do I give my money to? There are so many of them. If I give to one then shouldn't I give to all of them? Sometimes I find myself just not giving any money because I get so confused on the ethics of it.
I recently visited the department of social welfare. I had time to interview the head of department. We discussed the handicapped people living in The Gambia, which they call differently abled. I learned that the differently able in the country do not receive any direct money from the government. There are only 5 registered organizations that work with the differently abled and they are given 5000 dalasi a year, which is about 200 American dollars. This is not even enough money for the organizations to pay rent and electricity for 3 months. The organizations are mostly run through donor money but it is still not enough to offer these kids schooling past primary school. The head of department told me that 95% of the support to the disabled comes directly from the families.
Can you imagine being a handicapped person here? It isn't your fault you are born this way. The government offers you no compensation for your disability so your family has to take up the extra costs, in an area where money is not easy to come by. You can't go to school like the other kids. You can't get a job because of lack of education. So you do what you can to carry the weight of this financial burden by begging on the streets. I can see why begging is an appealing option to some and why shame does not affect them like it does me. It is more shameful to sit at home and be a burden on your family day in and day out. So I find myself offering money to the handicapped beggars that I encounter on the streets. It is odd because when I thought about coming to this country I imagined poverty had only one level, but there are so many levels of poverty here. I never though about what it would be like to have a disability or be handicapped. We are lucky to live in the U.S. where we are offered security and so many opportunities to excel even if you are disabled. The Gambian culture does a very good job of accepting everyone and making sure that people are not stigmatized or discriminated against. All over the city there are posters rallying for the blind. In spite of a lack in financial resources for the differently abled, The Gambian people do what they can to make people comfortable and accepted, which speaks loudly about the hearts of the Gambia people.
Sometimes my intentions are not always well met. Upcountry I bought a few bags of candy to hand out to the little kids, because what kid doesn't like candy? Well they got a little too excited and the situation got out of hand. The kids literally raided me and pushed me into a corner grabbing for my candy. They kept coming back and tackling the smaller kids to get to the candy. I felt badly because I had to retreat for my safety. I know that not all the kids got candy. At first I was mildly irritated that the kids couldn't accept a gift that was given to them and that they had to keep asking for more and couldn't share. Then I realized that this is what poverty does to you. You take what you can get. It breaks down those moral barriers. You don't have to feel ashamed to ask for things and take it all for yourself. It isn't like my life, where I have enough to share with everyone.
In the U.S. I would find myself ashamed and humbled by any situation where I had to ask for money from a friend, even if just borrowing it. It bothers me when I have to rely on other people and I can't do things on my own, but that is how I have been raised and that is the culture we live in. In The Gambia things are different. It is okay to ask for money from your friends and family members. My boss says at the end of the month, when his check comes, he starts getting calls from his family members asking for help with their financial problems. Poverty and culture attribute to this.
Family and extended family carry more value in The Gambia than in the U.S. You take care of your family and you listen to what your family says. In the U.S. at the age of 18 most children leave the home and although they may not become financially independent, they become emotionally independent. As a college student, I am allowed to make my own decisions; my parents don't dictate what I do anymore. Although they have a major influence in my life they don't decide my life. In the Gambia your parents are your higher authority for all your life. They influence your decisions and demand respect on a daily basis. Spirituality plays into this mindset a lot. There are stories in the Bible and Koran about respecting your parents that keep many children in line here. It is interesting, because my host family attributes a lot of the U.S.'s problems to our loose parenting. I can see where they are coming from. Many children in the U.S. disrespect their parents, run astray and end up in a life of crime, drugs, sex or what not. In the U.S. we tend to take a looser approach to parenting because the overbearing parent always ends up regretting their parenting techniques when their plan ultimately backfires in their face. I am sure that happens here but not as often because you are required to take care of your parents after you have a job. It isn't really that easy to abandon your parents in that kind of situation.
March 20: Last weekend Paul and his friend Therese came down to visit Kathleen and I in the Gambia. We decided to live like tourists for the weekend. We headed up country on a tour bus full of Dutch couples. It was really interesting to see Gambia from a tourist perspective.
The tour led us to Georgetown an old slave trading post. The tour was a little over dramatic. We were led down into this small dark room where the tour guide illustrated the life of a slave for us to evoke our emotions. After the tour Kathleen informed us that Georgetown was not really a slave trading post because it has been built after the slave trading period. SO it was interesting to see the tour guide really try and play up our emotions.
Next we went into a small village where the Dutch tourist gave away a lot of presents. It was really nice and the kids really appreciated it but Kathleen, Paul and I discussed how empowering this must be for the villagers. We found it very condescending to the villagers and disrespectful to fellow Africans. He really played down the villagers in front of them by saying stuff like "see how simple their rooms are. When you return from holiday there will be no reason to complain about your life compared to these people." It was somewhat frustrating at times to be with the Dutch tourists but it was a good time overall.
We rode down river the next day. It was nice to see the vegetation and the wildlife. We saw a few monkeys and a hippopotamus. I learned that Hippos are one of the most dangerous animals in Africa. It was a neat fact that Kathleen told me.
The weather was really hot upcountry and but we made it home after the ferry broke down. It was really nice to have Paul and Therese in The Gambia. It was really nice to relax and be tourist for a week too.
Saying goodbye was really hard because I really grew close to my host family. The last few nights and I managed to play and have a lot of fun. One night the girls and I had a tickle fight and they dressed me up like a witch. Then they tied me up and said I couldn't leave. It was really nice to be a part of their family. They hold a special place in my heart now. I could not have asked for a better family. Thank you god, for guiding me to a wonderful family.