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Sun setting at Njawara


(Fula for ‘good afternoon’)

The meeting we had with GamSolar last week ended up going pretty well, and they invited us to come to a village called Njawara, on the North Bank, where they were doing a survey for installing a solar power system. We headed up there with our new friend, Alfusainey, on Wednesday and came back on Thursday. The financial donor for the solar system is apparently a woman who regularly comes to stay at the Njawara Cultural Camp, where there are cultural festivals at certain times of the year. It was really cool to experience village life and hospitality.

The survey involved finding the power requirements for the first phase of the project, which involves providing power for certain key buildings in the village (the mosque, the school, the clinic, the agricultural training center, and the cultural camp). The next phases will provide street lights, then bring power to individual homes. As we walked around the village, I wondered about the sustainability of installing the system. How would the villagers pay for maintenance and repairs once GamSolar’s 6-month warranty was over? Would the donor be willing to provide continued financial assistance? (solar panels usually last around 20 years, and some components of the system will need replacing sooner). But I guess if they want power, it is better to go with renewable energy than to connect to the grid.

We also saw the village’s community garden, where a solar water pump has already been installed. This pump uses the sun’s energy to pump the groundwater to an elevated reservoir. The water then flows into reservoirs on the ground level spread throughout the garden (when the taps are turned on), where villagers will use their buckets to irrigate the garden.

One of the reservoirs in the garden (above), Elevated reservoirs and solar water pump (below)

It was pretty cool to see solar power in action.

Back in Yundum, things are going well. I am now learning a third African language: Fula  (my family’s tribe is Fula). Some days I speak 5 languages… English, French (some people here speak better French than they do English), Wolof, Mandinka and Fula. Well, maybe ‘speak’ is too strong a word for Wolof, Mandinka and Fula, but I can say a few words..

I also helped some of the guys make sandcrete blocks on Saturday for the coming construction at the back of my room..or at least I tried. They let me help with mixing the sand, concrete and water, but only let me form one block. Unfortunately, it rained later that day and some of the blocks were ruined..that will likely delay the renovation of my bathroom ‘floor’.

We are still trying to figure out what exactly to focus on for the rest of our summer. We have ruled out the earth blocks option, which I mentioned in my last post, and have decided to find something more related to agriculture, water and/or soil (our original internship). GamSolar also does work with the Ministry of Agriculture, under the Gambian Lowland Development Project (GALDEP), so that was exciting for us. One possibility is to somehow relate the two during our time here. We have already seen a community garden in Lamin that GamSolar is in the process of constructing.

Thanks for reading and I’ll keep you updated with all the new events,



'Welcome' - reads the sign at my new home

Lately, as you may have deduced from my previous post, work with SWMS (Soils and Water Management Services) has been slow. Because of this, we’ve been scouting around for some additional work to help keep us occupied. Of course, SWMS is our priority, but if we could find some other area to contribute and learn, and if we could make the time for both of them, that would be ideal for us. All of this searching around though has got me thinking about what the best way for us to use our time here is.

Earlier on in our placement here, I was thinking that our time here would be mostly a learning experience, and that we wouldn’t have much to contribute here, besides a few suggestions and thoughts for SWMS. SWMS is very good at what they do, and what we’ve done with them so far is some site visits, along with some light surveying. They would be able to do this just fine without us, which is a good thing of course. I’m sure though, after we’ve seen more of their work and seen more of how things function around here, we will be able to produce a report that will be of use to them. My attitude has changed now, I am realizing that we have the potential to have a real impact here, and I am not just content to sit back and learn all of the time (as important as learning is!). We are only here for three months total, with seven or so weeks to go, so that is something we have to take into account when choosing how to use our time here. We also want to do something that utilizes our skills and different perspectives, and is something that not just anyone here could do (not taking away jobs from local people).

Back to our search for additional work, we have had a few different leads. A friend of a friend’s boyfriend has suggested doing work related to solar water pumping (the friend happens to be in The Gambia right now and the boyfriend was here in the past). This would involve research into the feasibility of using these pumps in villages. While they may be appropriate in some cases, they are also costly and maintenance can be an issue. Yena also randomly met an architect who is working on a dome structure using earth blocks, and he has asked if we would like to do some testing and research for his organization. This one is also very interesting to us as there are many benefits to using these earth blocks (environmental, cost, local materials) and to the dome structure (can avoid using expensive concrete slabs). There are a few other leads as well but we will likely not end up working with them. We are still in the process of choosing what to do, and we have a meeting scheduled with GamSolar this week which should help us choose (and we need all the help we can get – as a group, we are pretty indecisive!).

Also, I just moved into a new place. It is quite different than that previous place, since this one is a room I am renting in a village called Yundum, and the previous place was a guesthouse for tourists. Check out the photos on flickr!


Last week didn’t go quite like I was expecting. I thought we would make a couple trips to the field and visit some sites, and maybe do some planning at the office or some kind of design work. Instead we ended up having a very slow week. Lack of funds is an issue right now and it affects the amount of work SWMS can do.

On Monday, we arrived at the office at 8am. We greeted people and waited around until around 9am, at which time we went to see two family compounds where we will likely be moving to soon. They both seem like really nice Gambian families and I can’t wait to move in! We got back to the office around 9:45am. There was some kind of miscommunication beforehand which resulted in Kebba thinking we had to go back to the Training Centre for the rest of the day. When we explained to him that we were expecting to work for the rest of the day, he said he had nothing planned for us to do and that we might as well take the rest of the day off. He also explained that SWMS isn’t doing much work right now because they are waiting for funds to come in, so there wasn’t much we could do.

On Tuesday, we came in around 9 (people generally show up to work between 8 and 9am, which is considered normal here). Today we met with the directors of GALDEP (Gambian Lowland Development Project), to learn about what they do and to see if we can get some hands on learning experience with them. GALDEP’s activities include sand removal (removing eroded sand from the uplands to get to the fertile soil underneath), fencing for farmer’s fields, market access for farmers, and storage and processing plants for farmer’s produce. This differs from what SWMS does (they perform the soil and water management portion of PIWAMP (Participatory Integrated Watershed Management Project)). If SWMS doesn’t have enough work for us then it will be good to get some experience with GALDEP.

On Wednesday, the morning consisted of meeting a few more people at the office, then making another visit to the family compound where we might move into. A Peace Corps volunteer is staying at the compound too, so it was good to talk to her about how she likes it there. After that we went home.

The next day, Thursday, we went to look for the FAO library, which the past UWO interns found to be a great resource for research. We found it, pretty close to our place in Fajara. It was nice, and air conditioned, and should be a good spot to do work later on.

That concludes the week! (Friday was a day off). Needless to say, we are hoping to be busier in the future.

On Saturday, we were invited by our friend, Lamin, to attend a Naming Ceremony. A Naming Ceremony is an all-day celebration where the name for a baby is chosen (when they are roughly a year old). I’ve heard about them and was hoping to get to experience one, so I was very excited when we got the invite! (we were supposed to go fishing that day but that got cancelled, but it ended up working out for the better!).

When we arrived, some of the men were in the process of cutting up a sheep for the meal, as is the tradition. They had also slaughtered a goat earlier, and a chicken. After that they handed the meat over to the women, who cooked it in large cauldrons. Yena was given some traditional clothes, and went to help the women cook. John and I stayed with the rest of the men, and we mostly just relaxed and drank attaya. Both of us were given turns to brew the attaya, and with some good coaching by Lamin I feel like I made some progress with my skills!

At one point all the men gathered for the ceremonial part of the day, where the child’s name will be chosen and accepted by everyone there. Lamin told us that the family would have suggested a name earlier, and now the men would ‘ok’ it, and later on the women would do the same. It was a very cool experience, but somewhat odd as well for a foreigner. For the start of the ceremony, a man stood up and would start yelling at people, praising their family and saying good things about them, in order to try to get them to donate money to the child’s family (according to Lamin). Throughout the rest of the day as well, there would be women doing the same thing, only with a megaphone, trying to get money (Lamin called them Griots).

Before dark, there was dancing outside the compound, in the sandy street. It was all women there, except for one of the two drummers. They were doing traditional Mandinka dancing. Yena was dancing with them for most of the time too. The whole time I was afraid I was going to get pulled in, but I told myself, “I’m a guy, and the dancing seems to be more of a woman thing, so they probably wouldn’t want me there. Plus, I’m a foreigner so they probably wouldn’t want to make me embarrassed.” Of course, just a couple minutes later, one of Lamin’s sisters comes and grabs me by the arm, saying “Dawda, you must come dance now.” Yikes! I thought of resisting but knew it would be pointless. So I made the most of it, and although I was definitely the worst dancer there, it was a lot of fun. John was dragged in shortly after as well. We tried to get Lamin to come, but that wasn’t going to happen.

Dinner was great as well. First we had this spicy soup, then some of the goat. The goat was incredible and cooked to perfection.

All in all, a great day and a great cultural experience! We are very thankful for the Sonko’s hospitality once again!


Also, since my last post, I uploaded a song by a well known Gambian musician, Jaliba Kuyateh, and a map showing where we’ve been so far! (just click on the link to see them! or look under the Photos/Video/Music tab).

On Friday we finished the WACD-TC course, and tomorrow we will be getting into our work with Soil and Water Management Services full time. The course was great and I feel like I learned a lot about how to work with people, particularly in development, and about the Gambian way of life (from interacting with people inside and outside of the course).

One thing I really like about this culture is how the people never seem to be in a rush. For people who know me, you know that I like to take things slow, so this suits me pretty well. I’m sure though that there will be times, especially when this happens at work, when some people’s disregard for time will get to me. I appreciate how time and productivity do not carry the same weight here as they do back home, and I think that is a lot healthier and helps us to be more alive (ie. Life is not all about work and being productive!), but I suppose one can only take that so far (we’ve all got to do something productive with our time!). That probably sounds funny coming from an engineer, since we are bred to be productive and efficient.

Another thing I like is how people here are so social. Like the time thing though, there are both positive and negatives aspects to this. If privacy is something you cherish, don’t come to The Gambia. People rarely let you mind your own business when you’re walking down the street, and we’ve been told that if we get the chance to live with a family, forget about privacy! That’s the negative side. But, on the other hand, talking to lots of different people is great, we can learn so much more that way (even if they are only talking to you so they can convince you to buy something from them!).

I guess both of these things are interrelated though, since being more social takes more time, people will often be late because they ran into someone they knew on their way to work, etc.

Presidents: Earlier this week the Mauritanian president (Abdel Aziz) visited The Gambia. It was an interesting event to watch as the police closed half of the main road, and police and other emergency vehicles sped towards the airport to meet the president. A few hours later, Abdel Aziz, along with the Gambian president, Yahyah Jammeh, and an escort of around 20 vehicles, came rushing by, sirens blaring. The people, along with the kids they pulled out of school to welcome the president, all cheered. After they passed, things returned to normal. This is apparently a common occurrence, since it happens when ‘important people’ visit the country or the president is driving down the road. He also likes to throw packs of biscuits to people as he drives by. While it was exciting for us since it was our first time seeing this kind of commotion, I can’t imagine that the general public enjoys this experience very much (except the odd person who catches some biscuits!), especially the kids who get pulled out of school to stand in the hot sun and wave. As one disgruntled Gambian man around my age said “They close the road for eight hours whenever the president goes anywhere, when they only need to close it for half an hour.”

Gambian church: This morning I had the opportunity to attend a church service at an Evangelical Church. The service was great and it was definitely African: loud drums and everyone was singing their heart out during the musical part of the service. That’s at least what I imagined an African church to be like. It was neat to see some of the similarities and differences to what I’m used to back home.

I also uploaded a song by a well-known Gambian Kora player, Jaliba Kuyateh, which you can find here.

That’s all for now! I’ll let you know how our first week went soon!

Jaama Rek,


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June 2011
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