Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Real Story - Life in the Barnyard

Below you'll find a letter written by my mom after her visit to The Gambia in 2005.  
She continues to inspire me.  She is why I keep writing.  

Greetings to all of you.  I'm taking this opportunity to tell all of you my impressions of The Gambia.  You've been hearing from Kim for the past year and I thought you might enjoy a different point of view.  For any of you contemplating visiting I'm going to list the do not's first:

1.  Do not go in the summer - the thermometer burst the first day
2.  Do not go if you're over 30
3.  Do not sit under a mango tree - there is a law of physics I now understand
4.  Do not put your arm down on the ground without looking first - my scorpion bite is finally healing
5.  Do not go on a horse cart ride without a cushion - don't ask!
6.  Do not bring a designer handbag

Gambia is really two stories - the coastal capital and resorts and the village where Kim lives and works. I am only going to write about the village.  To get to the village of Nyanga Bantang we left the hotel in a hired jeep at 6 a.m., spent 3 hours at the ferry crossing, and then drove for 5 hours on dusty dirt roads at harrowing speeds and at precarious angles.  The whole time I wondered if that driver was going to just dump us somewhere and leave us.  I was hot, dirty, and stressed.  Along the way we occasionally passed a village and one "main" town that the tourist book recommends - forget the tourist book!  I may write my own and give the real description of this town and its highlights.

When we arrived at the village Kim's whole family rushed out to greet us.  Fortunately Gambians don't hug; I already felt like a wet dish rag and things were not going to improve.  After the endless greetings I collapsed on Kim's bed while she went to get water.  Kim fussed about my dehydrating and force fed me water - it wasn't the water I objected to it was the fact that it was hot - everything is hot here.  I attempted to use the facilities - I'll spare you the details!  From my position on the bed I could look out onto the compound - naked children playing in the assorted manure, sucking on used batteries, playing with empty boxes and broken machettis, goats, children, horses, donkeys, cows, and cats roaming freely.  I would later realize the goats, chickens and people all shared the same food bowl too.  I really like animals, but!  For months I had been counting the days looking forward to my trip to Gambia and after an hour all I could think about was how was I going to survive a week here and how was I going to convince Kim to come home and not spend another year here.

That evening I lay outside on the concrete slab I had heard so much about.  At least outside there was a little bit of a breeze.  I lay on the slab surrounded by children and the women when they finished their work.  For someone with personal space issues this really was something else.  I lay there barely conscious, suffering form the heat, listening to story after story about Mariama (Kim's African name) and how good she was and how they wanted her to stay forever.  The whole week there I would continue to hear these words, Mariama is so good, Mariama loves people and people love her.  Mariama is doing so much for our village.  Even 10 miles away from her village everyone would shout out her name and run to greet her.  I also was asked for the first of many times to take a child back to the U.S. with me - mother's trying to give away their children so they can have a better life.  I heard over and over how hard it is in the Gambia - and it is!

The day beings before dawn with the roosters crowing and the women fetching water and pounding.  I see the stream of work and animals in front of the door to the hut.  The women work from about 5 in the morning till 10 at night.  About 9 we receive breakfast, the same as lunch and dinner, it is coos - the rainy season has not begun and this is all they have left to eat.  Despite their lack of food they have welcomed me and feed me; I am their guest.  I see there are other people other than family in the compound eating too, any one who is there eats and is provided for.  I attempt to send Kim to the biddick (small store) in the village to buy some things for the family - fruits and vegetables would be good.  There is nothing to buy; there is no food!  A this point I notice my designer handbag on the floor - the absurdity really hits me.  These people are warm and welcoming, they take in strangers, they work 15-18 hour days, they're malnourished, the children are naked or wearing threads playing in manure and fighting over trash, there's no relief from the heat and dirt, but I have my designer handbag.

When I get home I'm either going on the biggest spending spree ever or never spend another unnecessary cent.

Today we go to the school to see the library Kim has started and meet the students.  I spend several hours surrounded by kids reading stories and listening to them read.  Personal space is an issue again, but at least I won't fall if I pass out from the heat.  As a teacher I'm close to tears.  At school I can't find ways to get my students to read and here they come early, often walking for miles, and come on Saturdays and Sundays to have a chance to read and learn.  After school they come to the compound to continue reading with Kim and I.  Kim's 20 something year old brother sits nearby and listens too, he wants to learn more and asks lots of questions.  If I could only stand the heat I would stay and do more.  People who want to learn!

The village is made up of 39 individual family compounds and we have to make the rounds and visit all of them.  Over and over again I hear how good Mariama is and how she needs to stay with them.  On the last evening in village Kim has a party for me - she spends the day making pankets with her family and has hired drummers.  That evening 300-400 women and children come to the party to dance.

I have many more stories but I won't ramble on anymore.  Let me end with a quote:  "I am not the same since I have seen the moon from the other side of the earth."  I cried when I left the village.

No, I will not make Kim come home, and if I could stand the heat I would return myself and be the teacher I want to be.

I ask for your prayers for the people of the village of Nyanga Bantang.  They are a good people.



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