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.