Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A walk from Brikama...and Fula Scars

Last week I decided to walk from the University of the Gambia campus in Brikama, back to the compound in Old Jeshwang.   Picture the scene is Forrest Gump when Tom Hanks says “For no particular reason at all, I decided to go for a run”.  That was how I felt about a 15 mile trek from the University, home.  So, I took a bush taxi down to Brikama, and started my journey.

I enjoyed my day thoroughly. I spent time just wandering through small communities and talking to folks.  A couple of particularly friendly women who were tying firewood asked me to sit down with them and it was lovely.  Between my broken Wolof and their broken English, we mostly discussed our families and I told them about going to school at UTG.  They encouraged me to learn Mandinka and sent me on my way. 

Many people (men) asked if they could follow me, which became exhausting after some time.  As strange as I look walking around Fajara, Jeshwang, Serrekunda etc., about half of the road to Brikama runs through more rural communities…everyone was confused/curious as to why a toubab was strolling around.   I actually got to hang out in a school yard around lunch time because all of the tapalapa (sandwich) ladies had piled in to sell to the students. It seems that lunch break in the Gambia consists of a lot of running around, fighting over food, and yelling (quite similar to recess in America). 
I took lots of photos, and spent the day enjoying the Gambian sun.  Of course, I was beat after after my walk, but it was one of the most pleasant days I have had here.
This past weekend we headed up to Janjengbureh (also known as Georgetown), and spent quality time with nature.  The Janjengbureh camp had no electricity and running water…sometimes.   We went on an all day boat trip and cruised all over the Gambia River.  We saw hippos, all sorts of birds, baboons and monkeys.  I loved it- the water was beautiful and the deck on the boat was perfect for tanning until it got too hot, when I retreated to the lounge. 
Some of us also got Fula scars.  Many people here have tattoos or scars on their faces, arms hands etc.  The scar/tattoo lady happened to be in town when we were- so we rolled up to her compound with a couple of local guides.  She spoke only Mandinka, so we were reliant completely on the locals who were helping us out.  We bought some clean razors (similar to the tip of an exacto knife), and then prepared ourselves.   She cut three lines into my back, and immediately filled them with peanut ash so that they would be blackened.   These scars are to protect from evil spirits, which are common here in the Gambia, so I am of course relieved that I am no longer susceptible to bad things. 
Obviously being a baby

The finished product

Amy opted for her shoulder

Dylan with two- one on each shoulder

With Fatmata, our scar artist

Looking forward to seeing many of you soon- just three weeks until I return!         

Friday, April 29, 2011


For our Easter holiday, the house decided to go to Senegal.  We left Old Jeshwang a little after 6:30 am to catch the first ferry out of Banjul.  After waiting for a couple of hours at the ferry terminal for the boat to arrive, we literally ran onto the boat in an attempt to get seats.  This was of course unsuccessful as Gambians are much more experienced at pushing, shoving and claiming territory.  Luckily, we were able to stand and so we parted with the first boat leaving the port.  We crossed the Gambia River and ended up in Barra, where we took a bush taxi to the border with Senegal. 
The border between Senegal and the Gambia is anything but- people walk between the two countries constantly.  Our professor took our passports, talked to the immigration office while we were sitting in a bushtaxi, and we were let through.  Not what you’d call high security.  After crossing the border on foot, we took a real bus (with real seats, a functional door and air conditioning) to Lac Rose where we were staying.  Lac Rose is located about 45 minutes outside of the city of Dakar, which was convenient since we were visiting the city, but Lac Rose is itself a tourist destination.  Lac Rose, in French translates to pink lake- and it is just that.  The minerals in the water turn it pink, and the water has a salt content similar to the Dead Sea, perfect for floating around.  We arrived around 5 pm, and exhaustion kicked in almost immediately after our dinner. 
The next day we headed into Dakar.  We ended up at the ferry terminal there and headed out to Ngorre Island- an old French colony right off of the city, famous for its beautiful buildings and color, and for its importance during the slave trade.  Here, we also met up with Raven, another Susquehanna student who is studying abroad in Senegal.  It was wonderful to catch up with her and hear all about her experiences.
We ate lunch together, and then we wandered around looking at all of the paintings and the artwork.  The artists display their work all over the island so as we strolled we saw some absolutely amazing sand and glass paintings.  One of the painters took me and Holly back to his compound where we drank tea and checked out his studio.   It was interesting to watch the artists paint- in all honesty, it was sort of nice just to see people working.  The Senegalese certainly seemed to have more of an appreciation for time and labor than Gambians.
On Sunday, we took a lake/sand dune/ocean tour in a safari vehicle.  Our guide, Ousman, spoke only French, and I had a wonderful time just listening to him speak.  His accent was of course different than the Quebecois I chat with at Strawbery Banke, and the Parisian French I learned in high school.  He was totally knowledgeable about the people, environment and history of the Pink Lake.   We watched locals harvesting the salt from the lake, and visited a village right near the lake.   We were escorted by the Chief of the village who was interesting to talk to until he tried to marry me…when I told him that Dylan and I are married (only in Gambia) he wasn’t happy, and pretty much abandoned us.        
Ousman then proceeded to drive us to a mostly deserted area with enormous sand dunes, and he drove us up and down mini mountains at what I thought was a rather reckless speed.  I did not enjoy it, but the others enjoyed their wild adventure.  We ended up at the beach, which was fantastic!  Beautiful waves, perfect sand and nobody else in sight.  We spent the rest of the day lounging at the pool until we got the surprise of a lifetime…
Vivianne N’Dour is an African pop star.  We hear her music at all of the local clubs we frequent, and now she’s become a music staple at the compound.  Vivianne happened to be playing in Rufisque, another old French colony about an hour from our hotel.  We left around 11 and the concert got going around 1 am.  We got real close to the stage and listened to Vivianne belt it out.  She called audience members on stage to dance/sing with her so I made eye contact…AND ALL OF A SUDDEN I WAS ON STAGE.   I totally loved it.  We also got to meet Vivanne back stage during the concert, and she was very nice.  By four am, it was about time for us to go so that we could make our seven am bus with time to get to the hotel and pack. 
Running on less than an hour of sleep, the trek back to the Gambia was tough.  But after the noise, infrastructure and fast pace of Senegal, I was ready to go home!  This week classes are wrapping up and I am writing final papers and spending quality time at the beach.  Taking it easy- after all, everything in the Gambia is slow, slow (ndanka, ndanka).     

On our Safari vehicle. (Matilda Petterssen)

The group in front of the statue of the African Renaissance (Amy Hunt)

Crazy toubabs

On stage with Vivianne!!!  (Amy Hunt)


More Vivianne (Amy Hunt)

Very excited (Amy Hunt)

Backstage with Viv (Amy Hunt)

Susquehanna girls

Monday, April 18, 2011

Some sweet photos from this past month!

Just an average day in a Bush Taxi;  Courtesy of Dylan Belnavis-Flexner

Feeding a monkey at Bijillo Forest Park (David Mistretta photo)

David in a tree!

Traipsing around Bijillo (David Mistretta photo)

Hangin' out (David Mistretta photo)

Out in the neghborhood  (David Mistretta photo)

David is touching a crocodile! 

It's been a while...

Hi everyone!!  Sorry for the extreme delay in posting, it’s been busy here.  Over the past month I’ve done the following;
-Visited Tendaba camp, which is upcountry Gambia.  We stayed at an outdoorsy little place where we had the opportunity to take a boat tour of the Gambia River.  By boat tour, I mean a very leaky big canoe with a motor.  We hopped in and our tour guide showed us a variety of birds, reptiles and all sorts of other life in the river.   It was beautiful.  My favorite part of the trip was a hike we took through the marshes.  We encountered a bunch of women and girls from a local village who were harvesting salt.  They were friendly, and really enjoyed having their photos taken.  One of the pictures is even on the Susquehanna website!
- David came to visit me!  It was so wonderful to be able to share this experience with him.  We explored the Bijillo Forest Park which is a great little walk/hike parallel to the beach.  Its main attraction is the friendly Green Monkey, which David and I spent quite a while with.  We also did the entire hike around the park which was a blast- the ocean breeze and the sand dunes were to our let and the forest on our right.  We also visited the Katchikally crocodile pool, where we petted Charlie the crocodile, and looked at (from a considerable distance) some of Charlie’s not so friendly relatives. 
We went to Serrekunda Market, where David tried his luck at haggling with the locals.  He was surprisingly successful!  Serrekunda Market is so much fun (at least I think so) but can be overwhelming.  David didn’t seem to mind, and he picked up a couple of Wolof phrases and sure enough, he made some great purchases.    Throughout the week he accompanied me to school, and of course, the beach.  We even made it out to the club/bar so we could show off our dance moves.
-          Mom and Dad also came to visit!!  We spent considerably more time on the beach and catching up, but it was really nice to have them with me.  We visited Abuko Nature Reserve where we saw all sorts of wild life ranging from monkeys, to birds to hyenas.  We also visited the monkeys at Bijillo and ventured into Serrekunda and Albert markets.  And with Mom and Dad around, we went to all the area hotspots for meals!  Lastly, we visited Kim Kombo, a local distillery where we sampled the liquors (which are fantastic).  I really enjoyed the time I got to spend with them, and I am glad they will understand what I am talking about when I tell stories at home.
-          I’ve been running around attempting to do my schoolwork while having a lot of fun.   I’ve been spending my days at the beach or the pool, running around the greater Serrekunda area, and going out to the tourist district to kick back at night.  I am leaving for Senegal on Friday, so I will be speaking French and visiting a couple of folks from high school and SU.  Looking forward to it!  Enjoy the photos!   

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Charlie the Friendly Crocodile

A few days ago, Mohammed planned to have us visit the Katchikali Crocodile Pool.  There are about 150 crocodiles living in a pool, which is rumored to have healing capabilities.  More specifically, it is believed that the crocodile pool can help bring fertility to women who are having trouble conceiving.  People continue to travel from around the Gambia to visit these crocs in hopes that they can cure any ailment one might face. 
Before entering the crocodile pool, there was a great little museum all about the history of Bakau (the town next to us.)  I learned about a variety of cultural practices, mostly centered around celebratory traditions involving masks and art.  There was also some information about African involvement in both of the world wars.  Because much of Africa was colonized during the world wars, African soldiers fought (or might have been drafted, it was unclear) for the Allies. 
As I approached the crocodiles, I noticed there was no protective barrier between us and them.  They were hanging out in the pool, and certainly didn’t seem to be on the prowl for human flesh, but I nonetheless would have preferred a clear glass wall.  But this did allow for us to get great views of the crocs. 
There is a particularly friendly crocodile named Charlie who I had the opportunity to pet.  His tail and back were quite dry and scaly (as one might expect) but his belly and paws (I’m not sure what to call crocodile hands) were very soft.  He let me shake his arm around and rub his belly.  Overall, a very positive experience with Charlie and the rest of the gang at Katchikali.
We then headed to Mama’s restaurant for dinner.  The food was great, but the place was mostly populated by Toubabs.  A rather intoxicated British man came up to our table and started chatting away about Americans.  He mentioned living in America, so I asked him whereabouts.  PORTSMOUTH NEW HAMPSHIRE.  I immediately told him I work at Strawbery Banke Museum, that I live on the seacoast etc.  I am perpetually reminded that the world is a very small place.      
   In other news, my charming sociology professor has taken to reminding me of all the flaws I have based on my gender, race and nationality.  He really hates America.  I’ve never felt so defensive of my country.  Not my favorite class, but certainly a way for me to understand America through a different perspective.  In one of my other classes with my favorite professor, we discussed how we understand groups of people we are unfamiliar with.  In doing so, we wrote a variety of sentences about our perspectives of Gambians and Americans, and shared them.  Some of the American adjectives included “time conscious” “free-thinking” “hard working” and my personal favorite “law-abiding”.  When my professor pointed out that the US has more incarcerated people than anywhere else in the world, the Gambian student ignored her and maintained that Americans are lawful people. 
          I will try to update this more frequently, but I am beginning to make the switch to Africa time- ndanka, ndanka, or slowly, slowly.  Ciao! 
Petting Charlie

More Charlie

Checkers&Baobab Juice

Back of a bush taxi...no personal space. 

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Off to Kanilai

This past week has been packed with all sorts of field trips around the Gambia, and I continue to learn more and more about the culture.  Last Tuesday, we decided to go on the University trip to Kanilai, the birthplace of the president to partake in the celebrations there as a part of the week long Roots festival.  Basically, this week is dedicated to celebrating Gambian history.  Kanilai is about a two hour drive from Brikama, where our university is located (and Brikama is an hour from Jeshwang, where I live.)  We arrived at 9:30 am, which was the original departure time.  We were informed that there were some mechanical issues that would be sorted out as quickly as possible, but that we would no doubt be on the road soon.  Four and a half hours later, at 2:00 pm, we left. 
As we drove upcountry, I had lots of opportunity to observe rural Gambia.  The habitat is so dry, and everything has a reddish tinge from the sand.  Every town had two things- a house of worship (whether a church, mosque or both) and a meeting place, which I learned from one of my professors is called a bantibar.  This is a Mandinka word for meeting place.  Sometimes, a bantibar is a few benches under a big tree…other times it is a big open structure (the university bantibars remind me very much of a gazebo one would see in a public park in the states.)   Bantibars are used to socialize, where people go to chat and drink green tea.        
About an hour into our ride, the bus broke down.  We pulled over in this tiny upcountry town.  I walked over to a village girl who looked my age.  In my very broken Wolof I greeted her and asked her name etc.  She answered me and we had a lovely, albeit brief, conversation in Wolof.  She then told me she spoke English, thank goodness!  We discussed studying at the university, her family, her life in The Gambia and how she viewed the West.  I asked her if she liked to dance, and she smiled but replied with a firm no.  But she called the other children and women from the village over and before I knew it, there was a dancing circle!!!!   To my delight, there was a drummer, clapping and singing, as various members of the community jumped in the middle to show their moves.  Obviously, I could not contain myself with all the dancing and I had to jump in.  The children were so beautiful in their display, as were the women.  I had the pleasure of dancing with some of the mothers in the village who taught me some new moves!  BEST EXPERIENCE THUS FAR!  After about an hour, the bus was fixed and we had to say goodbye.   
About twenty minutes after our exit from the village, the bus broke down again.  We got on a bush taxi which shuttled us to Kanilai.  We arrived at a little after 6:00 pm, which was our anticipated time of departure according to our original itinerary.  There was nothing going on anymore in terms of festivities, we’d missed all the good stuff.  The president was scheduled to speak at some point that night, but it was unclear as to when that might happen and our caretaker encouraged us to turn around and come home.  So we hopped back on a bush taxi.  After about an hour, the bush taxi got a flat tire.  At this point, it was dark, in the middle of upcountry Gambia, after travelling and waiting all day, only to miss the festivities we were suppose to watch.  I wanted to cry.  But the kids in the village came over and we had a good time entertaining them and ourselves, so our spirits were lifted.
We returned to Brikama after what felt like hours.  We then jumped on a van to Jeshwang, where I promptly fell asleep.  When I was awoken near our house, it was 10:30 at night.  Exhausting day.  But I totally loved dancing with the Gambians I met upcountry, and playing with the children.  We also got to meet other Gambian students from the university and they included us in all activity for the day.  Overall, a great experience with the people of the Gambia…but an experience I never want to repeat.       
Our home in Jeshwang

Camel Riding, fantastic!


Watching the women and children!

We met the mayor of Banjul when we took a day trip to the capital city.

More Dancing

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Just a few photos

A monkey at the Bajillo national park

Sitting on the beach, watching the bumsters work their game.

Women selling fish at the market.

Wood carving market in Brikama

Under a canopy in the Botanical gardens in Bakau