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!

Dan

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).

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