Americans like to drink beer, perhaps more so in Africa. Last night we got our first exposure to a wide group of volunteers, mostly very nice and positive folks, who we really won't see again for six months - three months of training followed by a three month "challenge" of staying out of the capital region and more or less on our own. It's a little disconcerting, a little sad, and somewhat exciting to think about training and the future and getting to business, or unbusi-ness, or something.
I wish I could write about the green fields, the roadside stands, the easy way people live, how white skin draws attention, how the world Gambians live in is so completely different from the world from which I have come as to boggle the mind, but I haven't the time nor the ability at the moment. It's hot in a way that takes the edge off of labor, prevents the attitudes of more northern places. But also, the social structure keeps individuals from seeing gains from any fierce striving they wish to do on their own behalf, as most tribes functionally require members to distribute the vast majority of material wealth with their families - across a wide cast of extended relations if there is enough to go so far.
I am using a computer at the Peace Corps headquarters, in an air conditioned room, with a crawlingly slow connection. Apparently there is a 8 megabit line for all of The Gambia. Bandwidth in the US is so huge, so nearly free, it is one transition I find myself struggling with more than I expected. Having spent such a percentage of my day online in my former life, I miss connectivity only when confronted with the slim chance of it here, yet the speed prevents me from finding the same feeling of true connection.
There are 18 Peace Corps trainees in my group - all education volunteers - with five total in my program (IT), six or seven in primary teacher training, and the rest science and math teachers. I don't really know what any of us will end up doing, so I will skip explanations. We are a group of ten men and eight women, from a wide spread of states and backgrounds. On Friday we will travel up the river to training villages, for roughly eight weeks of language, cultural, and technical training with host families, alternating with weeks of staying in a central village, all together, studying broader issues and whatever else the Peace Corps wants to try to shove down our throats. The training days will be long - we have only had one full day thus far - but I love working on the language and hopefully can power through the sickness and other issues.
I haven't taken any photos yet, should rectify that soon, but am already in love with the night time, the mornings, and the people. West African cultures are so warm and inclusive, and our trainers - the only Gambians we have spoken to thus far - are all nice and dedicated to making our transitions as smooth as possible. The next six months will be a wonderful ride.
I have friends in the group, guys with whom I know I will get to be real brothers, and hopefully women as well. A part of me thinks that I should use replacement names for them, as they haven't agreed to be discussed on the internet. We will see.
I am a very lucky person, to have lived the life I've had and now to have this experience unfolding before me. In a way, I wish it were possible for every American to come have this chance, to step out of our cultures skin, to feel the rawness of being between cultures, and then be enveloped in the culture of another place. Ah well, if wishes were horses...