Monday, January 31, 2011

Last First Day of School. Ever.

So today I had my last first day of school. It was also my last first day of school in Africa. It was also my first first day of school in Africa too, I guess. I think this afternoon sitting in my Electromagnetism class was the first time the fact that I'm here and won't be going back home or back to Etown really hit me. I found myself desperately missing Esbenshade and the Caf, wishing I could just walk out of class and go back to the apartment or the Quads and be with my friends. I also found myself missing just being on the campus in general, it has become to familiar to me in the past years. It seems like my senior project is also not turning out exactly how I was expecting it to, and I was really beginning to question whether I should have come or not. I thought about this the entire ride home.

Don't take my next few statements as my attempt to turn this post into a Church service, but God immediately reminded me why he brought me here; to help people other than myself. To use the things that he has given me to help those who may have been given less. To help people that I'll meet here, and people that I may never meet. I think that is something that should be important to someone regardless of their beliefs.

Anyway, in addition to the rollercoaster of emotions that I'm on as it is, I'm also really wishing I had a motorcycle to ride here. I made the mistake of reading a Ride Report in AdventureRider of two guys about my age beginning a trip from South Africa to the UK through Africa, the Middle East, and Europe.Needless to say, it's got me wishing I was doing the same thing. Bikes are a little more expensive here than I thought they would be, so it probably is for the better that I don't have one, but that doesn't make me want to ride any less.

Monkeys, Bajul, and other happenings

So the other students have arrived. Everyone got in fine, so did everyone's luggage. After a few days of wandering around and a trip to the beach, we went on our first real outings. The first was to the Bijilo Forest Park, where many a monkey can be seen.

The next outing was to Banjul, the Capital of The Gambia. A older, more built up area situated on an island just at the mouth of the river. 

Early into our trip, Mohammed was called to by a man across the street in an important looking compound. It turned out is was the mayor of Banjul, who we all got a nice picture with after I accidently stepped on his shoe haha. After a trip to a museum which, in all honesty, I wasn't very interested in, we found our way into the labyrinth that is the Banjul market. A very impressive, almost miniature town composed of small shacks laced together under a patchwork of tin roofs. I had planned on taking a video of some of it as we walked through, but one guy noticed my interest in the various stands selling Gambian National soccer jerseys. He then grabbed a pair of jerseys and followed me through the market, out of the market, to the place where we ate lunch, outside which he waited, then continued to follow me all the way to the car park, then for another few hundred yards walking next to the Geli Geli. Probably taking a total of 2 hours out of his day to make one sale. He started at 300D, and went all the way down to 100D, which seemed a good enough price, but Mohammed pointed out the fact that he would have only taken that much time to sell it if he was still going to make a lot of money, so I stayed firm at 50 which he wouldn't go for. I'll get one when I go back I'm sure.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Brikama, Pirang, Bakau, and a Little Bit of Culture

These posts will soon become more condensed as I have neither the time, patience, or energy to do one of these every day. Yesterday I met with Degoede at his house in Brikama. Brikama is much more hustly bustly than up here, despite the greater amount of commercial stuff up our direct, as Brikama is a major crossroads. We hopped another Geli Geli (sp?) to Pirang, a larger but more removed village up river a little.

There we met with Gary, an older toubob (white man) actually from Rockville MD (small world huh) and Jeremiah, the community leader about a solar project in Kitty (I have no idea how to spell it, but it sounds like that) which is down near the southern border of Senegal. Things look good for the project, and after the talk we walked around Pirang, where I entertained all the village children with some soccer tricks.

The tour culminated with this GIGANTIC tree, called a Baobao Tree (Adansonia digitata), the pictures really don't show just how big it is. Definitely the single largest living organism I've probably ever seen.

The ride back was also very interesting. If you keep to yourself, most people will do pretty much the same, but if you're friendly, they're eager to have a conversation with you in whatever language you might both share (I've spoken English, German, Spanish, and what little Wolof and Mandinka I know, which is essentially none). Once you start a conversation with one person, everyone wants to know who you are, where you're from, why you're here, where you're going, etc. The type of inquiring tone people use here (and I have a feeling this is true for a lot of Africa) seems very crass, almost like they're angry about something, but this seems to be just a cultural difference. Everyone I've spoken to here has been incredibly friendly and good natured. I think they sometimes don't expect me to say hello or ask how they're doing as a lot of the European tourists don't (they won't even say hello to me). Another very different thing is the way people look at me. Especially the younger women seem to give me a long up and down that seems very similar, ahem, to how a person in the U.S. might "check someone out". This was very surprising and a little concerning to me at first, but I've come to realize that this is likely not the case at all. Anyway, on to today. 

This morning I decided to head to the beach to do some, uh, research for my project. The KSAC preferred beach is a long 3 mile walk along one of the main roads past apparently the only functional stop light in The Gambia. Also past a time traveling travel agency, no Deloreans in sight, though.

The beach is quite nice.

I discovered that by trying to head north along these rocks only to come to an impasse (well, without swimming anyway) with the tide apparently coming up.
Also saw some Paramilitary people training on the beach. Or maybe national police. Or maybe Police Intervention Team. Or maybe State Guard. It was very difficult to tell as they all had on shirts with different stuff on them. Which brings up another important fact for The Gambia (and a lot of Africa), no civilians with any type of military-esq clothing or equipment.
I actually accidently fell in with a group of them on my way out, and walked with them behind their formation for about a half mile, which surprisingly didn't seem to bother any of them haha. I was then followed by a bumster by the name of Fanta from the beach for another considerable distance. I knew he was going to try to get something from me, but I stopped anyway and talked with him for a while. He invited me back to his house where he did all kinds of weird ju-ju stuff (his words, not mine), where he gave me this special water I wiped on my arms and face and head that would protect me or something. He then asked if I wanted to make a non-mandatory (but apparently obligatory) donation of rice to the orphan children (who were conveniently absent) so that I could be blessed and prayed for by his imam grandfather (who he would intermittently go into different buildings in his compound and speak to, I guess he had attained some sort of Buddhist enlightenment and could be in more than one place at once). He and all his uncles and friends became clearly upset when I said I couldn't donate the 1500 Dalasi (almost $60) and told me I could leave, but were relatively friendly about it. Fanta then showed me back out to the road (I think he had tried to get me lost on the way there with a contrived route, but I'm pretty sure I would've found my way out). On my way back I had planned on sneaking into the national stadium to use the gym, but saw a huge gathering there so decided to check it out. It turned out to be a sizable high school track meet, with fans numbering in the hundreds. The running was very interesting, I watched three girl's 400m events, and many of them ran without shoes and would strip off articles of clothes I guess they decided was hindering them about a quarter of the way around, pulling off hats and t-shirts and tossing them to the ground. After returning to the house (now), it is time to work on my project.

P.S. This just in, I was walked to the other side of the house and found this

A little gym Mohammed made a while ago. Pull up bar and concrete dum/bar-bell!!! So incredibly perfect that it was obviously planned.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

I also saw the President Today

On my way back from the Stadium, I heard some sirens coming down the road, after which I saw two pick up trucks with full fatigued and armed soldiers in the back, an ambulance, another two trucks with M2 .50 Cal machine guns, then probably 10 tinted out Nissan pathfinders, an H2, then another 7 or 8 pathfinders and a few more ambulances and trucks. I have come to find out that this was the President traveling or wherever. Pretty interesting.

Day 1. Or 2. Or 3 or something.

 I guess this is like day 2.5 or something. Not sure. This morning I woke up early and went for my first African run. There were quite a few people out, and I was a beacon of curiosity with my shorts and Vibrams on. There were a number of other Gambians out running as well.

The House and around Jeshwang

 Not a very long run as my feet have become soft and the only shoes I have with me now are my thinnest vibrams and boots. Mohammed and I then went to the first year student orientation at the University (I guess if you could call it that) where I met some other international students from St. Mary's of MD.

 We were made to sit at the very front, directly beneath the "High Table" of important University people. Describing this event should paint a pretty good picture of how things work here. The orientation was to start at 10:30 or something like that. Mohammed and I arrived probably 5 min early, and probably 50 students were there, along with one of the probably 10 High Table people. For about the next hour, people slowly filtered in, chairs were taken from other areas of the campus as the originally laid out seating would only accommodate a quarter of the people that showed up, and the High table people finally started at around 11. Refreshingly, the talking began with an Islam prayer, followed by a Christian prayer. Then, each important person would spend around 20 min giving us advice and telling us why their department was the most important, some with a more comical demeanor, others with a somewhat grime and demanding tone. Finally, at around 1:30, the Vice Chancellor spoke. He is directly under President Jammeh, if I understand it correctly, and began in pretty good spirits speaking quite well about all the opportunities that lay ahead. Later, it turned to almost a scalding tone as he told us these opportunities were "our's to screw up", and expressed his displeasure of the nearly 40% enrollment in Human and Natural Sciences and went on to tell those students that they should not be doing that but rather Agriculture and Education. It sounded much like a parent disciplining a child, he seemed very unhappy. Almost immediately after, he asked the international students to stand up, which was a bit nerve racking as I had been sweating quite furiously as, one, this is Africa, and two, it was a very uncomfortable situation (especially as I am one of those students enrolled in the Sciences). After that was over with, Mohammed and I returned to Jeshwang. I decided to try to make it to the beach, but only made it to the National Stadium where I looked around and decided to head back, to where I am sitting now.


So I arrived a little later than scheduled as our flight was denied a layover in Senegal. My bags, unfortunately, are even farther behind and in all likelihood are still in New Jersey. After a surprisingly good sleep, I woke up around 730 with the roosters and had a very nice breakfast of eggs prepared by Mohammed and his wife Haddi. We then got into one of the mini van public transportation things and rode down to the University in Brikama. It was very smokey on the road, needless to say, I don't think many catalytic converters work on hardly any of the cars here.  The driving seems very rowdy and disorganized at first but really makes quite a bit of sense once you watch it for a while. I think it would be just as safe, if not even safer riding here as no one ever really exceeds 50 mph. The school is probably less organized than I expected, it's almost comical. After a brief meeting with Professor Degoede, we headed back to Jeshwang, where I offered to help Mohammed change his spark plugs as it seemed like his Mitsubishi could really use it. We got some spark plugs that ended up not fitting and changed some of my money out, then purchased a 10 Dals (Dalasi) SIM card for a phone Mohammed has lent me. Nearly everyone here has at least one phone as it seems pretty cheap. Mohammed and his wife found my vibrams very amusing, they said everyone will ask me why I am walking around in my socks. I then proceeded to fall asleep for a few hours in the afternoon, it seems my jet-lag is more than I had originally thought. Mohammed then showed me the way to the beach which was very nice and quite close to the house, not far from National Stadium where I will hopefully be lifting weights. It's been very cool to hear the calls to prayer during the day, I've actually sat down a few of them and prayed as well (not necessarily to the same God though). Please excuse the various changes in tense as I wrote some of this earlier and am too lazy to change everything.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


Well I leave in just a few days now. Trying to make final preparations. I've been trying to do as many bandwidth intensive computer things as I can while I'm still in the U.S., this blog being one of them. I will try to update this as often as possible with news of my life in Gambia, my senior project, and hopefully not too much nonsense and complaining about how much I miss Kathryn, my family and friends, and certain two wheeled vehicles. Be sure to check both here as well as facebook for pictures and updates.