Monday, December 17, 2007

Merry Christmas

Well, we had Christmas with the believers (some of them) on Saturday, the literacy training is finished for another year and we, the three of Ndungu Kebbeh, are leaving for the "big city" tomorrow. Tobaski and Christmas are only a few days apart this year, so we have 2 weeks that the literacy center and health center will be closed. So we are running away from home.

We will be staying at our guesthouse, which is a wonderful facility with separate apartments, air-conditioning, hot water heaters and even satelite television (there's nothing on that you want to watch most of the time, but that's beside the point!). It does not, however, have a land line phone, so guests have no internet access. All this to say that I will not be blogging for the next two weeks (unless I try the restaurant that has wi-fi internet). Yes, we are moving up in the world. For those of you that check the blog regularly, I'll be back with you in January.

So, have a wonderful holiday everyone. I will think of you shoveling your driveways as I sit by the pool or walk on the beach.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Jammin' to the exercise ball- con't

I decided to take pity on all of you and see if I could send you part of the video. I have learned a new skill this morning in the attempt. I'm not sure how it will turn out, but I have captured stills from the video and will post those so you will see a glimpse of jammin' to the exercise ball. Sorry I can't send any of the sound. The drumming on the ball and all the giggles really make the video fun. You'll just have to use your imagination.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Jammin' to the exercise ball

I have been trying to post this video all week, but it has been "update week" for my computer. Every time I've been on-line this week, my computer has been downloading updates. This may not be a problem where you live, but when your FASTEST connection is 28.8, let me tell you, those updates make uploading anything almost impossible. So, I have just checked and nothing is downloading. We shall see what lasts longer, the video upload time or my patience. Here we go...

Okay, this has become a contest of wills. I have fixed and eaten a salad, read a chapter of a book, written a couple of e-mails, been knocked off-line (thus having to start the video upload all over again), but I hate to give in. You never know, it might be that the video only has a few more seconds to go before it's finished...

This is the deal. I am going to go get ready for bed. It's getting late and I'm cold. Okay, it's probably in the 70's in the house, but that 's cold for me. I will leave the video uploading until I'm ready to go to bed and then that's it. Be warned. If I quit, there will be no more video attempts, at least not from Africa.

It's official. I have abdicated. There will be no more video attempts until we have a much faster connection. Sorry everyone. I am going to post this stream-of-consciousness blog and leave you all wondering just what jammin' to the exercise ball could possibly be.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Fun at Aji's house

Once in a while a mother shows up at my house with some of her children in tow. I keep toys on hand for such occasions and sometimes we just have a roaring good time. Yesterday a friend came with her 3 youngest children (actually one of them is the child of her co-wife who died when the child was only about 5 months old-long story). The daughter of the co-wife is named after my sister, Ruth, so we keep in close contact. She's wearing the blue shirt.

My new digital camera arrived this week, so it was fun to have some willing subjects. I have to play with my toys too!

Frogs in the bedroom

Some people have a problem with mice in their house. I don't. I have frogs. Okay, technically, toads. Frogs in the bedroom, frogs in my office, frogs hopping down the hall and frogs thumping around in the closet. I have caught or chased out of my house at least 10 frogs. I think they are gone now. It's cooler outside so they aren't drawn to the cool tile between my back screen door and the wooden door. If you opened the back door you would find a frog pile in the corner between the doors and if you weren't careful, the pile would disperse into the house from there. My poor housekeeper had to keep chasing frogs out every time she opened the back door. She's afraid of them, like most Gambians, so once they were in the house, they were my problem. People were amazed when I tracked them down, caught them by hand and threw them out the door. Here's one of my buddies. I took his picture before I grabbed him and threw him out the door.

Package, anyone?

We really enjoy getting mail. It doesn't happen very often, which is probably why we enjoy it so much. In order for us to receive mail, first of all, someone has to send us something. Second, the U.S. Postal Service has to get it to The Gambia. Third, and this is the sticking point, the people at the Banjul Post Office have to actually sort the mail and put it into our P.O. box. Fourth, Barney or Max have to pick up the mail at the post office and take it back to the mission office. Fifth, someone coming to this side of the river has to remember to bring the mail along to give to us. So, we get mail sometimes and when we do, it's an occasion!

We really enjoy getting packages. Sometimes, however, we find unexpected things in the box!

Check out this package.

It's amazing what fits into one of those new flat rate air mail boxes.

Okay, I confess. The cat didn't arrive in the box, but it sure is cute. The cat is actually a hand-me-down from one of the missionary families who left. Some people get furniture, books or other stuff, I get a cat. Her family was going to moving to Banjul, so I told them that I would take her. She's not so bad as cats go. Don't tell her this, but I'm more of a dog person.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Answered prayer

I often wonder how people without a relationship with the Lord manage to weather the storms of life. Of course we know many who turn to drugs, alcohol and rampant hedonism to escape the realities of life, but here we see people just plugging away, stoically accepting whatever comes.

I almost had another very sad post, but God is good and has answered our prayers.

A few days ago, I heard from my friend (P) whose daughter died a few months ago. She had been called unexpectedly to another daughter's home because her granddaughter was missing. The child and her mother were visiting relatives because the mother was sick and seeking medical treatment. The evening that they arrived, the child (about 5) went with her cousins and other kids from the neighborhood to watch TV at a nearby compound. The child never came home. The family made announcements on radio and TV, searched the neighborhood, went to all the police stations in the area, but nothing. I didn't hear about it until the child had already been missing for 10 days. My friend called to make sure that I had heard. She was also concerned because she had heard that her daughter-in-law here in the village was sick. P was feeling pulled apart as she tried to support her daughter whose child was lost and also care for her son's wife who was trying to handle the responsibilities at home.

We were horrified at the fact that this child had been missing for so long and of course, we thought the worst. I was also very concerned for P because she was still struggling with the death of her daughter and was now dealing with an emotional pain that might not ever be resolved. We prayed hard for the child to be found and two days later, P called me and said that the child had been found. She seemed to be okay. The circumstances that led to her recovery are truly miraculous. Another child who was being held in the same compound, escaped and told the police where she had been held and that there was another child there. Of course when the police came and told them to produce the other child, the people denied everything. After the police left, the people got nervous and moved P's granddaughter to another compound. They were too nervous to keep her, so they moved her to someone else. Several compounds later, someone finally decided to take her to an orphanage and leave her there. Meanwhile, her family decided to check the police stations and that orphanage again and there she was. God is so good.

I am looking forward to seeing P again when she returns home and rejoicing in the way that God answered prayer.

Saturday, November 17, 2007


One of the hardest things for me to get used to here is death. Now it seems like death would be the same everywhere, doesn’t it? However, people all over the world respond to this universal experience in different ways. Here in The Gambia, when a person dies people initially wail loudly until all the friends and neighbors hear it and come running. After that initial outburst though, fatalism takes over as you hear people telling the grieving family that it was God’s will and they just need to endure it.

In the past few months I have attended 3 funerals of young adults. Somehow those are always the hardest. As we chatted with the family of one young man, they were comforting each other with accounts of how faithful he was in doing his prayers and how no one had anything bad to say about him. I had to bite my tongue not to cry out at the vanity of putting your hope of eternity on your good works or good character.

A good friend of mine lost her daughter a few months ago too. I sat in her house as people came to pay their respects. If she cried, they told her, “Just endure it. All we can do now is pray for her. Don’t cry. Endure it.” My friend still comes to my office regularly when she needs to talk or cry, because I provide a listening ear and I don't scold her for crying. Her daughter was a recently married young adult and no one really knows what she died from. My friend's account of their days in the hospital are heart wrenching as both of them knew that she was dying. All I can do sometime is cry with her because there is absolutely no hope I offer her.

I struggle with death in this culture because I believe that people who die without trusting in Jesus Christ as their Saviour are eternally lost. Are Americans who die without Christ also eternally lost? Yes, of course, but since most Americans have heard the gospel many times, you have some hope that perhaps the person accepted Christ as Saviour before he died. Here people talk about having hope, but they are putting their hope in good works instead of the blood of Christ that paid the penalty for the sins of the world. Their hope is in vain.

Just a few days ago though, we experienced a different kind of loss as one of the believers passed away. Unfortunately, we are still not a strong enough group to have a Christian funeral and a plot of land to bury believers. Her husband is obviously struggling with his loss, but he told me just today that he believes that she was truly trusting Christ. At her funeral, her relatives wanted him to go with them to the gravesite and pray for her to get into heaven as they do at Muslim funerals. He refused and as he told me today, "She has already gone where she is going to go." This death, although painful, leaves us rejoicing that she came to know the Lord before she died. What a difference that makes!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

My husband

Some of you are probably saying, "What ?!", but it's true. I have a husband. Okay, he's only 2 years old and is really my great-grandson. I hear your voices again, "What?! How can you have great-grandchildren?" It's very simple. When I arrived in The Gambia 14 years ago, I was named after the matriarch of our village, Aji Suun Kebbeh. In bearing her name, I also claim all of her relationships. Her children call me mother, her grand-children call me grandmother etc. Thus, most of the village calls me mother, grandmother, aunt etc. Are you with me so far? When it comes to male grandchildren, however, particularly little ones, grandmothers always call their grandsons "husband".
So let me introduce you to my husband. Mohammeh is staying with his grandparents who own the place we rent for the Literacy Center. His mom just had twins, so he's living with grandma for a while.

Every day he greets me as I arrive. He's just learning to talk, so his greeting is usually a bit garbled. His grandmother is always telling him to greet his wife (meaning me). The other day as I arrived, I heard this little voice coming from inside the house, "Jabar, jabar" (wife,wife). I almost fell on the ground laughing. I'd never heard a kid do that spontaneously before.
As you can see, he was having a wardrobe problem that completely distracted him.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Aaaagh, they're taking over!

We have had another sneak invasion at the Literacy Center. We were sitting listening to a lesson about David when one of the men in the group says, "Did you see the termite mound under that cabinet?" Well, those termites had filled in the entire space under the cabinet and moved inside as well. Their construction was so solid that two of us tugging on the cabinet could not break it loose from the wall or the floor. Yuck! We had to leave it until the next day because we couldn't get to it. I dug some dirt from underneath and left it so the housekeeper would see it when she came to clean in the morning.

Impressive, isn't it?

Our housekeeper, Suna, chopped and hacked at that termite mound with a machete to break it up. She had already removed part of the dirt from around the edges before I arrived and took this picture. She still couldn't get the cabinet away from the wall though, so the majority of the termite mould was left so that you could see the fun we have. (Suellen heard that we had another major termite invasion so she loaned me her camera because mine isn't working. She said I had to get pictures of this one.) I eventually managed to pry it loose by tipping it first one way and then the other.

The other employees arrived and joined the fun as we found that the inside of the cabinet was also invaded. We are having training sessions right now, so we have extra people around too. They were all watching or helping with the removal.

Suna told me that she took out 8 of the trash cans full of termite dirt. Then she said, "And that's not counting what I just carried outside with the dustpan!" The poor woman spends a lot of her time on termite patrol. I even made her go check the building once a week when we were closed in the summer. If I hadn't, the office might have been filled to the brim before we opened again. Those termites are industrious little buggers!
I can't wait until our new office is built. It at least will be cement with solid cement floors. Our current building is cement walls with a dirt floor that was lightly coated with cement. There are many holes in the floor so the termites don't even have to work very hard to get in. Maybe by this time next year we will have our new building. Until then...the fight goes on.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Termite invasion

One of the things that we deal with at the literacy center on an almost daily basis are termites. Yes, I do mean those little antlike critters that love to munch on wood, paper and any number of other substances. One of the housekeepers jobs is to check for "guests" each day. Some days she hauls out a bucket or more of termite dirt. Last week, I returned from a weekend in Banjul and found that they were making themselves comfortable in my office. They had built a mound of wet, red dirt up the wall and around a gallon jug of oil. A few days later, the housekeeper found them using the battery cabinet (where the big car batteries for the solar power are kept) as their latest condo. They have been evicted from in and around this cabinet many times, but after trying other locations they always come back (after the poison wears off!). Gibril and Ebou, two of my employees, helped the housekeeper dig the mucky red dirt out of the cabinet. They hauled out 7 big platters full of dirt! Suellen arrived in the middle of this process and decided that she was so NOT happy to have seen this. For us, however, it was just another day at the office.

Monday, October 15, 2007

I'm back

Sorry I haven't posted in a while. I logged on one day ready to post a deep and profound blog only to find that I couldn't access my own blog site. Obviously that problem has been mysteriously solved, but alas, the deep and profound thoughts I had for you are now lost in brain space. So, don't get your hopes up for this blog.

We just finished the month of Ramadan, the Muslim fasting month. Yippee, hurray! I don't fast during the month, but it is painful for me as well. People are not eating or drinking from sunrise to sunset (approximately 6 am to 7 pm this time of year). At sundown, however, the eating and drinking begin. They "have to" break their fast with a hot drink and bread, then they drink cold water (ice sellers make a killing during this month since most people don't have refrigeration), then they eat a meal. Around midnight, they eat again and some get up to eat breakfast at 5am. They spent lots of money (that they don't have) on food and drink during this month of fasting. Of course, during the day, since people are fasting, everyone droops around and spits. They aren't supposed to swallow their saliva during the fast, so people spit constantly during Ramadan.

During the month, I get lots of requests for help with food, cold water and clothes for the feast day that ends the month. About a half hour before sunset, the water seekers come bearing their containers. I keep about 12 liters of water in the frig and give it until its gone. I didn't have as many water seekers this year, so many days I had water left over for the next day. It's nice to have that over with for another year.

Well, I guess that's all I have to say for today. I'll try to post again soon.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Car fun

How many cars does it take to get three missionaries from Banjul to Ndungu Kebbeh? In a perfect world, it only takes one. However, The Gambia is NOT a perfect world. Yesterday, Suellen, Teresa and I were coming home after our quarterly field council meeting which was held at our guesthouse. We loaded the car around 10 AM, hopped in to head to the ferry, brrr, the car wouldn't start. It sounded more serious than just a dead battery so we called Max who had the van, which had just been repaired and was also ready to return to NK. Max brought the van. We push-started the Nissan so it could be driven to the mechanic. Then we unloaded all of our junk from the Nissan and moved it to the van. Fortunately only Suellen had done her monthly grocery shopping this trip. We had a lot of stuff, but it could have been much worse.

On the road finally. We jump in the van and head out, but we notice that it needs fuel. We stop to fill up and find that the gas cap is missing. Since it had just come from the shop, we called Max to check on it when he gets to the mechanic with the Nissan. Max meets us on the road with a gas cap that will fit and away we go.

We arrive in Banjul and see that the wait for the ferry is going to be a long one. We find a spot in line and settle in for the day. Since it was so hot, we left the motor running so that we could enjoy the air-conditioning for a while. The line moves forward slowly and we finally turn into the driveway of the ferry terminal. We aren't inside the gates yet, but they are at least in sight. In the process of moving, we noticed that we were leaking fluid. As we pulled into the driveway of the terminal we can smell the antifreeze. When we turned off the engine, we could hear water boiling. A van engine is under and behind the driver's seat, so the car is very hot. We could see a huge puddle of water under the van, so we knew that we weren't going any where with this car.

We tried to call Max to find out the status of the Nissan, but the cell phone network was not working. After trying all of our phones and all of the numbers for Max, Barney and Adelia, we decided to go call from the telecenter (like a phone booth, but manned). We found Max waiting for the mechanic to call and tell him that it was ready. (It turned out that it was just a loose connection in the Nissan.) After waiting for Max for over an hour, we decide to go back to the telecenter and call again. Turns out he had been trying to call us, but couldn't reach us because of the network problem. He was on the way with some guys from the mechanic's shop.

Max arrived and we persuaded the ferry workers to let him pull in behind us so we could transfer baggage yet again, this time with many interested onlookers. I took position near the back of the van to keep sticky-fingered observers away and Teresa and Suellen took turns guarding the back of the Nissan and carrying stuff. Thankfully we were inside a semi-protected area with security people all around, not in the open street. In fairly short order we had the stuff packed in the Nissan. The mechanics added water to the van and were going to follow Max to the shop. Max manuevered the van out of the crowded line and we hopped in the Nissan to wait for the ferry. Since the line was so long and the ferries running so slowly, we ended up only losing about 5 places in line and crossed on the same ferry as we would have if we hadn't broken down. As we say here, "Yalla baax na". (God is good.)

We arrived home at 6:15PM, hot and tired, but happy to be safely home.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

We missed you!

The flow is finally slowing down. Since I have been home from vacation I have had a constant flow of people coming to welcome me home, say how much they missed me and then ask for either their gift from my trip or help with money for _________(lunch, a trip, medicine, mosquito net, candles etc.). One afternoon my living room was full of women and children while the entry way looked like a used flip-flop jumble sale. (I wish I had a picture to show you. My digital camera is having problems.) There were people on the couch, on the loveseat, on the exercise ball, on the kitchen chairs. As chairs emptied, they were rapidly filled again with different people. In the midst of this were the children that came with their mothers. They like coming to my house because I keep balls and other toys for them to play with. That afternoon was a nice time because there were too many people coming and going for all of them to ask me for something. So we were able to just chat. Those with serious business came back the next day.

In the midst of all the visits, I still try (vainly) to get some other work done. Some mornings I run away to the Literacy Center to work, but people follow me. The flow of people continues the whole time I am there. The good thing is that I am fresh back from vacation so I have more patience with people. The bad thing is that it is exhausting to deal with all the requests all day every day, so pretty soon I'm going to need another vacation!

So many needs and so many stories of need. Determining who really needs help and how to help them is a constant challenge. The rainy season is a time of increased need as people have used up every bit of last year's crop and put all the money they could scrape together into repairing houses or buying seed and fertilizer. Food is scarce and money scarcer. Meanwhile with the rains come mosquitoes bearing malaria. So people are hungry and sick, but still trying to work in their fields so that they will have something at harvest time. Only someone with a heart of stone wouldn't feel compassion on people, but the needs are so many that you have to triage. You do what you can do and leave the rest to God. Most people have a whole network of relatives, friends etc who they depend on to help them. Although every single person who tells me their tale of woe claims that I am "their only hope", I know that people survived before I came here, while I was on furlough and they will continue to survive if I leave here. Knowing this is true doesn't make saying, 'Forgive me, I can't help you today.' any easier though. Especially difficult is refusing to help one of the "family" because they are too dependent on your help. Sometimes help isn't really help.

I don't know if this blog is making any sense to anyone except those of you who have been here or somewhere like this. My goal is to help you get a glimpse of every day life here and this issue is a big part of every day life in The Gambia (even if you're not a "rich missionary").

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Home from vacation

Just a quick post to let you know that I am back from vacation. I spend my vacation time just relaxing at our ABWE guesthouse here in The Gambia. It's nice to spend some time in the air-conditioning and not have people at the door constantly. My co-workers did have to run interference for me some as things came up with employees in my absence. When Deb is here, we don't usually take vacation at the same time so that one of us is always available. With the literacy ministry closed for the summer you would think that nothing would be happening, but there's always something.

One tragic event shocked me as one of my employees called to notify me of the sudden death of one of the literacy facilitators. The young man was a teacher at the primary school in our village and he had just finished teaching the first year literacy class in his village. His village was our first class in Serer and he did an excellent job of teaching the class. He had over 30 students and all but 2 passed the exam with over 60%. His death was very sudden. It sounds like it could have been an anerysm since he complained of a severe headache and was dead within an hour of arriving at the hospital. Death isn't reserved for the elderly. My other employees may find this a wake-up call as this young man was younger than most of them and very well liked and respected. He leaves behind a wife and 2 small children.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Nursery School Program

Since Deb Newsome is on furlough, I also have the responsibility of running the nursery school. (Normally we divide the work. I run the classes and she runs the nursery school.) So I had the opportunity this year of participating in the nursery school end-of-the-year program.

As you can see we had a full house. Of course with the school enrollment close to 100, just the kids take up half of the room! I had to make a speech in Wolof to open the program. I just got up and talked and had fun. Teresa, a fellow missionary, who was at the program commented later about how I "turn on" in front of a crowd. I confess it's true, even in Wolof. I get it from my father. Thanks, Dad.

The teachers have some of the top students demonstrate the things they have learned: alphabet, counting to 100, writing numbers to 20, writing their name, colors, shapes, reciting the days of the week and months of the year, etc. The boy below is MKN's son.
Some of the students are just too good at what they do. Behind the men in the picture is a little girl who was counting to 100 VERY QUICKLY. Every time I tried to get her picture, she had disappeared again before the camera got the shot. I tried twice, but she was too quick for me. People were very impressed with her though.
Finally after everyone and his brother had a chance to make a speech, it was time to hand out certificates. Thirty children received certificates and "passed out". They will be going on to first grade in the government school in the fall. This little girl is Kumba. She is named after my sister, Ruth (Ruth's Gambian name is Kumba Bah). I was running around like the mother of triplets because I had several kids "passing out" that I needed to get pictures of. Of course, I wanted to get pictures in general, too, to share with you all. I must say, this blog is making me take more pictures.

For those who may be wondering who the men are, they really don't have anything to do with the school. We invite the village chief and other village elders and dignitaries to attend the program. We give them a place of honor, let them give speeches and participate in the program.
One of my jobs on program day is to drive to the village and round them up. This particular day I was driving the "Kebbeh mobile". My last name is Kebbeh and every one of the men that I loaded into the car for the program was a Kebbeh. Now I packed a few more with different last names in for the trip back to town, so it wasn't the Kebbeh mobile any more.

Adventures in Literacy

In June I hit the road to close all the literacy classes until January. Sometimes the roads I hit are interesting like this one. By the way, this wasn't the worst one by any means. It looks terrible, but at least there's a "bridge". More fun are those places with no bridge. The same day that I crossed here, I also crossed at a place where they are building a bridge, but since it's not finished you have to drive around the bridge through the muck. We haven't had much rain yet, so the roads are still in good shape.

As the two literacy supervisors and I arrive in the villages, the class participants start to gather. We make some speeches about education and thanking the teacher, the students, the village chief etc. Then we hand back their exams along with certificates and prizes. Everyone who took the exam (even if they only scored 1%) received a cassette with 4 lessons from the Bible in Wolof. Those who were first or second in the class received bigger prizes like a bowl or machete or watch. Then we have more speeches as the class members thank us for bringing the class to their village etc.

Living in Africa though is sometime like being in a musical. You just never know when people might break out singing and dancing! In one village an older lady got up and started singing a song praising their teacher etc and the whole class chimed in echoing her words. The clapping and drumming on the yellow jerrycan quickly followed as various class members jumped up to dance.

You just never know what might set off a round of singing and dancing! You'll be happy to know that although I was invited to participate, I refrained ; )

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Rainy Season

Well, it's officially rainy season. We have had 2 good rains so the farmers are planting their peanuts. The red fuzzy bugs are out in force and the winged ants are hatching and depositing their wings as they flutter around the lights at night. The fields are just starting to show a tinge of green as the grass begins to grow. The millet farms were planted early this year, so the millet plants will be coming up soon.

At this point in the rainy season, we can go a week or more between rains. The humidity rises and rises until you think you are going to dissolve in a puddle of slime. Most days it's probably in the 90's with 80-90% humidity. I'm not sure how that rates on the "heat index" that the weather forecasters use, but it's definitely sticky. Suellen insists that I don't sweat, but that's not true. It's true that I don't DRIP sweat, but I do have a good glow most days. (Haven't you heard that ladies don't perspire, they glow.) At the clinic, they used to mark the FST (first sweat time) each day. When the FST is 8 a.m., you know you're in for a bad day unless it rains. The rain itself is wonderful as it usually is accompanied by cool breezes and a reduction in humidity (at least temporarily). I also enjoy the sound of rain on the corrugate roof. In a bad storm, it's deafening, but in a gentle rain, the sound is soothing.

As much as I enjoy the rain, I feel sorry for those who have to cook outside over an open fire. Many have a separate building that is the kitchen where they can have their cooking fire, but some people don't have a kitchen or their kitchen fell in the rains. (A mud-brick building tends to do that.) So on rainy days, when the rain lasts all day, most of my friends have to struggle to cook for their families. Not to mention that the bathrooms are outdoor pit latrines. Not much fun in the rain.

The rain ruins many roads. Most roads are just dirt paths, so they are washed out easily and develop mud holes that are car traps. The trick in driving on these roads is to follow the cart tracks and see where they go through the puddles and where they go around. (It also helps to have 4-wheel drive : ) My favorite technique is to avoid driving on the worst roads until they dry up, but that isn't always possible.

My next blog will have a picture of one road that I drove on recently. Some people say that most of the roads I take to the villages with literacy classes aren't really roads. That, however, is another blog.


I celebrated my birthday this week. My birthday falls during one of the busiest months at the Literacy Center, so I don't have time to even think about it. Most of the time I forget about it until later in the day when I happen to write the date. Here, however, birthdays aren't a big deal. Most people don't know how old they are, much less the date of their birth. In recent years, some of the more educated/affluent people in the country have started celebrating birthdays. The one celebrating a birthday may have a big party and invite their friends. The friends don't bring presents. They come for their share of the birthday.

I follow this custom on a very small scale with my employees. On the day of my birthday, I give them money so that they can have attaya (a strong green tea) and hot sweet milk. Sometimes I tell them that it's my birthday and sometimes I don't. I didn't tell them this year. When I do tell them, they suggest all kinds of other things I should do for them to celebrate my birthday. A Gambian friend of mine heard from one of the other missionaries that it was my birthday, so she came to "get her share" of the birthday. Yes, she thought I should give her something so that she could celebrate my birthday.

My fellow missionaries don't follow this custom. On the day of my birthday, they came to my house just as I was getting home from the literacy center. Teresa had made a carrot cake (my favorite) and she, Suellen and Jean brought it over, sang "Happy Birthday" and then we enjoyed the cake. That was the extent of the celebration though. Short, but sweet, then back to work.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007


Have you ever wanted to be swarmed by 50 pre-schoolers? You haven't?! Well, then I have some advice for you. Don't go to the nursery school in Ndungu Kebbeh and pull out a camera. Remember I warned you. This is what happens. Children who were playing contentedly or eating lunch spot the camera. Instantly, the holder of the camera becomes a child magnet as the chant begins,"Nataal ma". (Take my picture.)

Well, once I broke free of the swarm, actually, I didn't really break free. I just moved the group in the direction I wanted to go. I convinced the children that I was taking a picture of the climbing structure that we just moved from the old school. So they swarmed the climbing structure (instead of me) and I took this picture. You can't really see the climbing structure, but it does make a nice tiered effect for the picture.

Our groundskeeper/handyman for the Literacy Center property is amazing. One of the teachers asked if we could move the climbing structure from the old school yard to the new one. I wasn't sure it could be done, but I asked the handyman. After looking at it briefly, he said," I can do it." I was still doubtful, but he could try. The next day, he took the structure apart board by board, we loaded it into the car and took the miscellaneous pieces to the new schoolyard. The next day, he put it back together like a giant jigsaw puzzle and there is stands. Our 90+ nursery schools students are enjoying having something to climb on (since we won't let them climb the baby cashew trees.)

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Tie and Dye

June is one of the crazier months of the year for me. I coordinate adult literacy classes and June is the month that we close for the year. That involves many different things, but one of the most fun is when we go to the second-year classes and help them with their tie-and-dye. Tie-and-Dye is one of the skills that we teach in the second year classes. Yes, that's me, the only "tubaab" in the picture.

This week we went to 3 villages to dye their projects. It's a lot of work!
In about 3 hours we finish preparing and dye about 50 yards of cloth, in 2 yard sections. Each class participant is given 2 yards of cloth to prepare and dye. Some of the styles require preparation on the actual day of dying and others must be prepared ahead of time. Of course there are always some who should have prepared ahead of time, but didn't!

My class supervisors and the class facilitator have their hands full as they try to guide 15-25 women through this process. It gets a little loud sometimes, so it's a good thing the class is held outside under a tree. Imagine 25 women all trying to work on their projects, most of whom have a baby on their back or a toddler at their side. Now add in 2 fires for heating water and spectators of all ages. After all, our arrival is probably the biggest show in town that day.

In the end, we have some very nice work. When the class receives their certificates next week, the group will also received a kit which will help them to make a small start if they want to continue this as an income-generating project.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Paycheck to paycheck

When I lived in America, I often heard people complaining about how they lived from paycheck to paycheck. I was probably one of them. Living here gives me a whole new perspective about wealth or the lack of it. Try living paycheck to paycheck when there is no paycheck. The phase hand to mouth is a more accurate description of many people's existence here.

A friend of mine came to use my phone today. She was trying to call various relatives who might be able to give her some money or buy her some rice. This woman has four children and a husband who sometimes works. Even when he does work, he often "punishes her" for various offenses by refusing to give her money for food. So she spends her day going to various people that she thinks might help her with a little money or some rice. If she get something, she goes home, cooks lunch and calls all of the members of the compound to eat (7 adults, 6 children). All will eat, even the husband who refused to give her money for food. That will probably be their only meal of the day and the next morning the process begins again. If her begging is not successful, they will not eat that day or at least she and her children won't. The men often eat somewhere else if there's no food in their own compound.

I have other friends who live like this as well. Some husbands will at least buy the rice (a 100 pound bag that will last 10 days to a month depending on the number of people eating) and try to give their wives some money to take to the market each morning to buy the fish and vegetables for the meal. Many women have to supplement what their husbands give them with money that they earn by selling or doing laundry or other small jobs. Imagine waking up every morning knowing that there is absolutely no food in the house and little or no money in your wallet. If you manage to scrape together some change, you go buy something to cook for your family. You eat, then there you are again, no food, no money. That is truly a hand-to-mouth existence.

As one of the "haves" in this society, I am someone that people come to for help. My friend comes to me almost every day, but I can't give to her every day. It is her husband's responsibility to provide for his family, not mine. I would be wrong to take over his job, but it's hard to know where to draw the line between compassion and creating dependency.

I am often reminded of the verse that says that a man who doesn't take care of his family is worse than an infidel. I also think of "He that doesn't work, shouldn't eat".

I know men who have very little money, but they hustle every day to be able to give their wives money to cook with. If they come up short, I don't mind helping them, because they are trying. The lazy ones and the stingy ones really make me mad though. I don't like it that they benefit when I help their wives. Today is one of those days when I want to take all the deadbeat husbands, line them up, knock some sense into them and then make them watch over a period of several days while their wives and children eat without them. Obviously I can't do that, but it would be nice!

Okay, I've vented enough. I'll try for a lighter topic next time.

I hate bats!

I know you're thinking that I have a weird animal encounter every day, but I don't really. I think the critters are just trying to help me get the blog off to a good start, but they can stop now. A few minutes ago a bat got into my house. How? I don't know. I heard some critter-ish sounds and then it starts swooping and diving all around the kitchen/living room as I was trying to make supper. I had to keep dodging as it buzzed past my head on each circuit of the room. Then it disappeared down the hall and I was left wondering where it went. I crept down the hall, cautiously turning on lights when there it was swooping out of my bedroom and down the hall toward me. I quickly went to the back door, propped open the screen door and blocked the hallway with the door and my body. I was hoping that the bat would escape out the door without hitting me. It did. This bat was smarter than its relative that was playing kamikazee with me a few weeks ago. That one actually spent the night in the house (while I hid in the bedroom). I eventually got it out the same way, but that one had defective radar. It actually ran into me before deflecting out the door. Yuck!

It's surprising that we don't have more bat encounters since our compound is over run with bats. They love the mango trees especially when the fruit is ripe like it is now. Visitors from the U.S. always ask us what the beeping noise is at night. It's the bats. They sound a little bit like a big truck when its backing up. My attitude is live and let long as they stay out of my house!

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Another day, another story

I killed a black mamba today. Granted it was only a baby one, but still... where there's a baby mamba there's a mama mamba. Today my cat decided that a baby snake was fun to play with, so when I was walking out my door, there she was toying with the snake just a couple yards away from the door. A friend who was with me warned me that this was a poisonous snake. So what's a girl to do? Scream, faint or pick up a rock? I threw a rock on it (which only made it mad) and then put a bigger rock on it so it couldn't get away. Then I got my shovel and chopped it's head off. The Gambian ladies who were cheering me on weren't satisfied that it was dead until I bashed its head in too. Take my word for it. That snake is really dead. I just hope mama mamba doesn't come looking for her baby's killer.

We know that there is a big snake that regularly tours our compound and the watchmen are sure that it's a black mamba. They haven't been able to find where it lives, but they have followed a large snake track all around the compound. My flashlight is my best friend when I have to leave my house at night. Hmmm, maybe I should have two best friends, my flashlight and my shovel.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

No two days alike

I have often thought that living here has spoiled me for "normal" life. Every day is different here with strange things happening or just funny things. For example, I go to work every day at the Literacy Center. The office is located in a Gambian compound so there are cows, goats, chickens, sheep, horses, ducks and of course children that wander in the yard around the building. The occasional curious goat or chicken (or child!) will venture into my office just to see what I'm doing. Yesterday our entertainment was provided by a goat that got its head caught in the handle of a bucket. The goat was jumping and running trying to get away from this thing that was chasing it, but of course, the bucket continued to chase the poor goat. One of my employees took pity on the it and removed the bucket.

One day a monkey came racing through the office yard and all of my male employees took off chasing it along with all the men in the neighborhood. Monkeys don't normally come into the village, so they thought this one was probably sick and should be killed. A few minutes later one of my employees emerges victorious holding up the body of the monkey for all to see. So how many of you have adventures like this at your work place?

Yal na leen Yalla barkeel. (May God bless you.)



Welcome to my Gambia blog. I am a missionary working in the Gambia, West Africa. I live and work in a rural village on the north bank of the Gambia river. If you look at a map, you will notice that The Gambia is basically a river with its two banks. I have lived in the Gambia off and on since 1993. On this blog I may talk about my work or my observations into the language and culture of the Wolof people. Questions and comments are welcome.