Here I am
I am here at Quantum Associates - the internet cafe I have been using, writing into a blank document because they won't connect to the ISP without a third customer. Ah yes, life here has its charms.
But, being the industrious Peace Corps volunteer that I am, I have spent some of the time writing text messages to my friends, and now I am trying to write to all of you.
Things here are great, and show lots of potential to continue to be that way. Life is so much about attitude, and doing the little things well, and I feel like I am learning how to stay afloat here without too much splashing or clawing to the surface.
Not that the challenges I hoped to find aren't here, they are just somehow easier when expected, and when the days other pieces aren't too demanding. Yesterday was the day of the big lumo (weekly market) here in town, and I went with Woman, who came up Saturday afternoon. It was the biggest weekly market I have ever seen, located nearly halfway to Senegal on the outskirts of town (the border is that close). I think all the vendors did as much or more business in CFA (the currency of most if not all of former French West Africa) as dalasi, and there was certainly a lot of business being done. I had gotten a shopping list of sorts from Awa Ndie, who is in the role of my host mother, so had some work to do instead of just taking it all in. I was able to find all the items, and didn't get overcharged for them too badly. The meat was the biggest challenge. I probably got overcharged there, but I almost lost my breakfast as well. The butcher had quite a bit of meat around, including a hanging side of mutton in the sun, and quite a few different bits of viscera that he was willing to include. I had a choice of steak or meat and bone, and since we always eat meat and bone, and since it was less expensive, I got that. The whole process involved quite a bit of whacking and smashing and very little in the way of sanitary concerns. I had gladly left the meat for last on my list, because I was in little shape to do anything but trek home afterwards.
So I have a new goal - to be able to go to the lumo comfortably, get all of the things I need and not be exhausted by the project. It's an amazing confusion of trucks, donkey and horse carts, 50 kg bags of all sorts of vegetables, vendors of every sort, and people from the two countries piled on top of each other. It's the kind of thing that I came here to experience, get my fill of, and also the kind of thing that makes me appreciate Wegman's that much more.
I am starting to think I will not get on the net today, so I have found a spot to save this file, and hopefully I can retrieve it later on.
In the sporting news, Gambia was doing brilliantly in the Under 17 World Cup, in Peru, until Friday night, when they played disastrously again the Dutch and fell 0-2. That, coupled with a rout by the Brazilians of Qatar, left them out of the quarterfinals. Sadness befell a nation that had been held rapt by their Scorpions - the team's nickname. It is a lot of fun to be in a place that appreciates football/soccer so much.
Saturday night Woman and I cooked dinner together, making a vegetable stirfry on top of rice noodles – a brilliant change of fare from the Gambian diet, and made a bit more local by the addition of fresh groundnuts (the local term for peanuts). The groundnut crop is just starting to come in, and eating them so fresh is a treat. Sunday morning we made scrambled egg sandwiches – a combination of one of my favorite morning foods with the local idea of how to serve eggs. They were two great meals, and having Woman up to visit really made the weekend.
Tomorrow morning I am planning to bike to Njaba Kunda – I think I mentioned it the last time I wrote. It will be a challenging morning, I hope to leave around dawn, and get there before 9AM.
As I wait for the internet connection, which is extra slow today, I search around for more topics. The mail service from here has proved to be a challenge. Rates are tripling on the first of the month, which might be met with some outcry, but I have seen very few Gambians have anything to do with the mail system. I have also been trying without success to mail a letter for almost a week now – Pen Pal, if you are reading this, I will get it sent somehow! – but the post office here reminds me of something straight out of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. They have an outer room with all the vaguely familiar booths for dealing with customers, but they are empty and may never have been used. There is only a sign saying ‘No Entrance’ ‘Official Staff Only’ – but when I call out a greeting, a man replies from some room, and comes out to tell me to come back there. His office is bewilderingly hot, covered in papers and parcels, with a scale in the corner where he told me to weigh the package I wanted to send. I think he charged me the rate that goes into effect at the end of this week, though this happened a week ago today. And since then I have been unable to find the place open. All in all, the sort of thing I expected here, but that doesn’t remove all the frustration I am finding.
On Saturday morning I took my bike out for a first ride – went north to the border, and then south to the ferry and back home, all in about 75 minutes. It was great to get some exercise, and also to realize that both are so close. In a few months, once things are settled down, I may seek permission to go to Senegal for shopping and general exploration. We will see. And next weekend I am planning to bike to the ferry, cross the river, and go to Soma to hang out with Woman, Ani, and their other site mate. Ani is a second year education volunteer, also doing ICT, and I am interested in seeing what he does that I can learn to do here. All in all, things go very well. I haven’t run into any snags of particular venom, and I am happily sweating away here in Fara Fenni. I would love to hear from people, and now – 30 minutes after connecting – I see that I have email! Cheers everyone, Zac