Friday, October 28, 2011

Peace Corps 50th Anniversary Celebration

Last night was the 50th year celebration of Peace Corps world wide and 45 year anniversary of Peace Corps in The Gambia.  The Festivities where held at the village of Kanili.  This is the village of the president.  The day started off with all of the Peace Corps volunteers, Staff and United States Embassy staff; nearly 200 people caravanned in land cruisers and two large tour buses all the way to the village. 

The Parade grounds
Once we arrived we were treated to an amazing lunch of Goat, Lamb, Beef and bbq chicken along with amazing salads and fresh fruit. After lunch we walked over to the parade grounds where the event would take place.  As we waited they had a live band and music playing. 

The President and the Ambassador to his right

About The President, His Excellency Sheikh Professor Alhaji Dr. Yahya A.J.J. Jammeh made a entrance by driving his own range rover into the parade grounds and then continued to shake all of the Peace Corps volunteers, staff and embassy’s hands.  Then there were speeches by five volunteers in five of the local languages along with speeches of Peace Corps counterparts, US Ambassador to The Gambia and the Peace Corps Director.  The Keynote speaker was the President himself which gave a great speech thanking us along with thanking our parents back in America for both making sacrifices to come here and help his country.
The President giving his keynote address

After the speech the President gave all of the woman volunteers custom tailored outfits.  After they received their outfits the men also received custom tailored outfits.  I was one of the lucky ones and was third in line to choose my outfit.  When I walked up to the president he said I could have a small outfit or a large outfit that was exactly like his.  It didn’t take me anytime to decide that I wanted one just like his.  Once I shook his hand and thanked him and examined it closer and it was actually a outfit that had been tailored for the president himself just in a different color. 

Weighing my options
A few of us decided to try them on and see how they looked.  They look amazing; they looked so good that three of us actually got our pictures taken with the president in them.  I don’t have that picture now but I PROMISE I will get it up as soon as I receive it.  
Showing off our new outfits

By then it was almost one in the morning.  We all walked back over to the lodge for dinner which was the best dinner I have ever eaten at one in the morning.  We then heard from The Gambian police band which featured a bagpipe, and watched a video that one of our volunteers had made about Peace Corps service in The Gambia.  Once dinner was finished it was about in the morning.  About half the volunteers stayed spend the night in Kanili and the other half came back to stay the night at the Peace Corps Transit house.

Overall the celebration was great and something that I will remember for a long time.

A little proof I was their thanks to the jumbotron

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Harvest Times Two

Recently I returned from a few day trip to the Lower River Region of The Gambia.  My host brother and I went to help our other brother harvest his coos.  It was a great experience, I got to see another part of the country that I have not seen.  It was also the first time I have stayed at someone’s compound that wasn’t a Peace Corps Volunteer’s. 
Coos Field

Small coos piles

Tying bundles

My brother, Me with the tools of the trade, and cousin

Brother, cousin, Brother

Transporting coos bundles
The way you harvest coos is very labor intense just like everything that is grown in The Gambia.  There were five us that were in somewhat of a line.  As you walk with your knife you bend over and cut off the coos seeds that are on a long round stem that is anywhere from four or five inches long to two feet long.  You then put the coos in a pile and continue to the end of the field.  We then turn around and combine all the small piles into larger piles.  On the last day we walked around and tied all the piles into bundles and then combined two bundles together to make one large bundle.  All together in one field we got I think about 15 large bundles.
Pile of large bundles
One afternoon I went and helped the mother of the man whose compound we were staying at knock sorghum seeds off of the shoots.  How this is done in The Gambia is with your feet.  You take a handful of the cut stocks with the seeds on them and put them on a opened up rice bag and then step on them with your bare feet and rub your feet all over the seeds to knock them off.  It is a slow process and somewhat monotonous process but sorghum is very sweet and worth the effort. 

Sorghum before processing


After processing

A hard days work, 35 Liters of sorghum

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Harvest Time

It is nearing the end of the raining season so people are starting to harvest their peanut and rice crops.  I asked my host father how much his compound that has about 12 in it how much rice they consume each month.  He looked at me and laughed and said too much.  He then said about two bags a month and about a bag of coos every month.  Each rice bag is about 100lbs and that is the same for the coos.  That means my family eats over a ton of rice a year.  I then tried to think back about how much rice my family in the states eats and I really couldn’t remember ever buying more than ten pounds of rice at a time and I told my host father we ate less than 50kgs a year and he was astonished at that and then asked what I ate.  He then told me that we had just recently ran out of coos.  My family eats coos in porridge ever morning.  One of my host brothers left in June to grow coos in another region of the country, he does this every year.  We called him and he said he has just started harvesting coos.  So we decided that my brother here and I will go and help him harvest coos for a few days and hopefully bring back a bag or two of coos back with us for the family.  If not, we will continue to eat left over rice from dinner that is reheated and served for breakfast.  

This week I spent two days helping a family in my village harvest rice and I spent one day helping another man harvest peanuts.  I will first explain the process of harvesting peanuts.  You walk along in a line however many men there are.  Each person bends over and pulls out the peanut plants and shakes some of the dirt off and you put them in piles and you walk the whole length of the field.  Then a small boy comes along and puts them in one large pile.  Around this one large pile is where any able body person that can work is working pulling peanuts off the plant a few at a time and putting them in a bucket that is then emptied into a large 50kg rice bag.  I spent about nine hours pulling peanuts off the plant and filled my four gallon bucket five times.  The fifth time I got to take it home as a payment for helping, I also got fed lunch. In all we filled four and a half rice bags with peanuts in one day.  Currently one rice bag is being sold for approximately $20 USD.

Doing work

Rice bag O peanuts
Harvesting rice is done with a curved serrated knife that is about 16” long with a handle.  You walk along the rows of rice grab a handful of rice  a few inches off of the ground and then cut it with the knife, you  do this till your hand is full of rice stocks and then you put it in a pile and go to the next row over, you work 3-4 rows a person.  Another guy comes along and ties them piles with strips of fan palm leaves and then takes them to one large area to let them dry.  The effects of 90+ temperatures and over 90% humidity and bending over for two days my hamstrings and body were sore and tired.  I spent all day yesterday lying on the cool cement porch with a fan sleeping and reading.
Rice field

Cut rice in piles

Bundles of rice drying