Monday, November 19, 2012


Being in Peace Corps is like being on a roller coaster.  I have heard it before and I will hear it again.  I don’t like roller coasters and I think I can count on one hand the number of times I have been on one.  But, I like Peace Corps.  I could see how people compare the two.  There are times when you’re up and times when you are down.   
During your service of 27 months there is always this looming question that you ask yourself and other asks, “Are you extending”?  Which means are you staying for a third year?  For me personally, the first half year or so I really didn’t know one way or another and always told people I don’t know right now. There was about a year gap where I thought to myself, there is no way I would stay here any longer than I have too.  Around my birthday I started thinking that I like it here, I like my village, host family and I am not really getting that sick anymore.  I also started working on this Food Security initiative and as time went on I found myself working more at the Peace Corps office.  This summer I went back to the states to visit my family and while I was there I discussed my options with them.  The main options was I could potentially move out of my village and into the city and work on this Food Security Initiative full time.  I could only see doing it for a full year and not just the rest of my service of six months.
I thought I would have until December to decide.  For reasons outside of my control things started to fall into place and I had to make my decision in August.  It depended on Budget approval for me to move and work full time on food security.  In the beginning of November we got budget approval so I then officially submitted my paper work to extend until April of 2014.  Passed my medical exam, and then got my official approval from the country director. 
The next step was to tell my family and friends in my village.  When I told them they were upset but they were also excited for me.  My host father said he would let me keep my house and not let anyone else move in.  I appreciate it because I still want to go and visit and hangout on the weekends.  I also love my mother’s cooking.  
My program manager then came and told the elders and other important people in my village that I am leaving.  After that I found an apartment near the PC office and filled out the lease agreement.  I should be moving from my village to my apartment December 1st.   I am headed back to village for a couple weeks and then I take a step on a different path for about a year and a half. 

I saw this Peace Corps PSA a couple weeks ago and it hit me just right and I just shook my head and told myself that its sooo true

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Ouagadougou what??

I just got back from Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.  First off it is pronounced Wagadugu in English but spelled Ouagadougou.  The couple of weeks leading up to my departure I was telling people both in America and in The Gambia that I was flying to Burkina Faso and the typical response from people was “where is that? And why do you have fly? Is it far?”  Inside I just laughed.  I quickly realized I would say the same thing before I came here.  I didn’t know Burkina Faso from The Gambia.  
Can you find Burkina Faso??

Burkina Faso

If I was answering to someone in America I would explain it to them that it is east of The Gambia by a couple countries and a little south, sharing boarders with Mali, Niger and some other smaller West African countries.  If I was responding to a Gambian I would usually look around for a stick and draw them a map of West Africa and show them where all the countries in West Africa are and then show them where The Gambia was and where Burkina Faso was.  I usually would step back afterwards and gaze upon my dirt map and get a feeling of appreciation of my five long years studying geography in college and see the results of that. Nevertheless, I got my point across to two different people in different ways.   
Lots of scooters

I went to Burkina Faso for one week with three other Peace Corps volunteers  and participated in the ECHO 2nd West Africa Networking Forum.  There were 165 participants from 17 African countries, 5 non African countries.  We went to 3 days of session in the morning and then in the afternoon we would go to smaller group sessions on more specific topics.  Most of topics where targeted in helping small scale farmers and families improve their lives through agriculture. 
Burkina Faso's Bush Taxi
 The day after the conference we went and toured an experimental farm about an hour outside of the city and that was great to get out of the city and see some of the country. 
Improved Variety of Okra
Deep Deep thought...
Burkina Faso Top Bar Hive

An overpass

Overall it was great conference and I brought back a lot of information and things that I can pass onto other Gambians and other PCV’s.  

I wanted to make sure you could spot me

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Fruit Tree Grafting Workshop

This week was the culmination of the last nine months of work.  Tuesday and Wednesday I had my fruit tree grafting workshop. This workshop was funded through a food security small grant from USAID that I applied for back in April.  The goal of the project was construct a fruit tree nursery and hold a two day workshop.  My plan was to bring community member to the fruit tree nursery for two days of training on starting a fruit tree nursery and best practices along with all aspects of fruit tree grafting.  Each participant received pruning shears, grafting knife, 50 polypots to start their own fruit tree nursery and a certificate of completion.  Participants learned and practiced multiple grafting techniques for different fruit trees, each participant grafted four mangos, five citrus and one avocado that they took home after the training.  All of the improved varieties of citrus and mango are varieties that Peace Corps The Gambia feel should be promoted for income generation and could be beneficial if they were more abundant throughout The Gambia.  The mango variety we grafted was Kent the citrus varieties were Nova, Clementine, Washington Navel, Valencia, Japanese and Tangerine.

The sign on the gate

Day 1

Avocados on the left and Cleopatra Mandarins on the right


The only person I caught sleeping the entire two days

Grafting practice
 I spent the previous week making final preparations and talking to all the participants.  I made it very clear to each participant that each day the training would go from 9am sharp to 4pm.  This was one of my biggest concerns because Gambians don’t know what watches are and have no respect for time.  It’s not that they are always 10 or 15 minutes late, sometimes you can call a meeting and they won’t show up until the next day and then complain because you didn’t feed them or they will sit in the back and sleep. 

My host father grafting
With this project I could only budget for around 25-30 people.  We sat down and talked about who would be interested and should participate.  I based this off of people I have helped with fruit trees or have large fruit tree orchards already.  Some of the people I have grafted for or shown them how to graft. 
A child among men

My village is large and word travels very fast, especially when the only white kid is doing something.  I can go eat lunch at any other compound in the village and when I get home my host mother knows where I ate, what I ate and who was there.  So as you can image within hours people were coming to me asking me if I had written them on my list to participate in the workshop.  It was unfortunate that not everyone could participate.  It started to feel like 5th grade all over, when you only tell 10 of the 30 kids in your class that they are invited to your birthday party.  The week leading up to the training I was nervous that people would show up that I hadn’t talk to and it would be awkward to tell them to leave or that they could stay but not get anything. 

Jenaba the shopkeeper
I had my program assistant Bah2 and another man, Gibi come and lead the two days of training.  Bah2 and I came up with the idea of a grafting training the beginning of this year.  After the training we both were very excited at the level of excitement that the participants showed during the two days of training. 

Everyone with their certificates
My host mother a few of her friends cooked our meals for the two days and it was delicious food. 
The cooks
Lunch being prepared
 Overall I think the two days of training was a success, many of the villagers I have seen and talked with were very appreciative for the training and learned something from it.  Ultimately I am happy with the results and in a perfect world the trees that are still in the nursery would be used for rootstock and grafting trainings in the future or sold as a source of income.  Having a source of improved varieties of citrus in the area will be a great resource for surrounding communities.   

Yaya and I
Just like any development work things change especially once the person involve leaves.  It’s the “sustainability,” issue that I worry about.  Yes, I have family and counterparts that have bought into the idea and helped me along the way.  They have all agreed to continue the tree nursery after I leave, but who really knows what will happen.  Everything I have done throughout my entire PC experience has been with low expectations as not to be disappointed.  Every time I do something I am impressed and excited at the results because it exceeds my expectations.  This could be a personal flaw of fear of failure or not wanting to disappoint myself but I think it’s more of a way to stay happy living in a developing nation…

The first picture with my host father ever, I told him not to get too excited
Diet Mike can still eat

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Mail Run

I just got back from mail run.  Mail run is where two PCV’s go all over the country delivering letters, packages and anything else that needs to be delivered to them.  This can be a box of food someone bought in the city and is sending to their site because it’s too large and heavy to take it themselves or even bikes, mattresses or buckets.  I went with Abby, we had signed up for this adventure over a year and a half ago.  
Day 1

Big Sam the driver

Day 1 Packed full

On the ferry

Rush hour traffic

water crossing

Sitting in the back

switching cars

Day 3

On day three our 4wd went out in our car and we only had 4th gear.  The next day another driver brought us another car and so we took that one and continued on and he took the broken one back to the office.

We were lucky because the weather was nice the whole time.  We got a little rain here and there on us but it was perfect.  We got to see a lot of volunteer’s sites and made a lot people happy by bringing them unexpected packages and letters from home.
I had fun and I am tired from sitting in a car for 5 days but it was well worth it.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Almost done

The Fruit tree grafting garden is 90% fenced!  Yesterday my host brother and I finished up the fencing around the gate.  He had installed the gate a couple weeks ago when I was away.   All we have to finish is about 15 meters on the East side of the garden. 

PaKonte putting the fence up

The Gate

Part of the fence
We will then clear the area and bring the trees in from another village.   I am hoping to have the two day grafting class the first week in September. 

Friday, August 10, 2012

Doing Work

I have been spending my time working in the rice fields.  Some days I go and help my family and other days when they don’t go to the rice fields I just take my hand hoe and go.  You can always find someone there to help.  Sometimes I just go and sit and watch them work and play with the children or see what kind of food they have I can eat. I would have taken more pictures but my battery died.

Sharing Culture

Saturday, July 21, 2012


I just returned from my first quarterly food security trek.  I am tired of sitting in a car that isn’t made for tall people, crappy pothole filled roads, and drinking water out of 300ml water bags. But, this is Africa and I try not to complain outload. It only takes a few seconds after I complain internally and I realize it’s not that bad and it could be a lot worse. 

We went to about ten volunteer’s sites and looked at their food security projects.  They were in all array of completion.  Some had not even started others where finished and we got to see how happy and excited their community members were. 

Most of the projects are agriculture based, such as gardens, seed banks or demonstration plots. Here are some pictures.  Many of them could look the same but they aren’t and many of them are just pictures of where the garden will be when the project is finished.
Fetching water

The women coming to see us

The women that garden here
It was myself, my program manager and samaka or “Sam” the driver.  We got three flat tires on the trip with the last one happening at 6 o’clock last night in the rain right in front of the transit house where he was dropping me off.  I took some pictures of the first one.  Surprisingly he might have a future in NASCAR if he works on his form and speed a little.

Sam in action
The trip was a success, we learned a lot about the project and how we will do things differently next time.  It was also great to see some of the projects that are complete and are successful thus far.  To see for example a group of women come running into a garden as soon as we pull up because they are so excited to finally have a place they can garden will put a smile on your face.