Saturday, August 30, 2008

I remember when I was growing up I used to love to help my father in the garden. I would put my work boots on and dig holes, plant seeds, and make compost. I used to take “Gatorade breaks” every ten minutes and sit with my sister and eat tangerines. My father would keep working and politely go over the “work” we just did. Now that I look back at those times I am sure I was just making more work for him. Working in Africa, I have that same feeling again trying to help hoe the rice fields with my host mother,Hawa. At the end of the day, the more work I have done the more work she has to go over. It is a learning experience for me, and somehow Hawa understands that.

I work with Hawa from 8 in the morning to sometimes 7 at night. We hoe the land to prepare for rice cultivation. I stand next to her, sweating in the afternoon heat waiting for my “Gatorade break”, but here we don’t get any. I am barefoot, up to my knees in swamp water, I hoe the land not bring able to see the work below me from all the mud. I think I am finished with a piece of land until she moves over and starts to hoe the same spot. It is hard work, these women are strong and tough. My host grandmother Binta comes over to greet me and takes the hoe from my hand. She shows me that it is in the arms, not the back and to keep my legs steady. We laugh and she cracks a few jokes about me being the only “toubab” (white woman) in the rice field. Hawa then tells me to go home, it is getting late, and I am sure she can tell that I am tired. I walk back through the swamps and laugh at the thought of how easy we have it in America.
On my walk home I see my friend Badji collecting palm leaves to make local brooms. I help her for a bit,cutting the leaves with a machete. She cuts fast, sometimes slicing her hand, but it doesn't stop her. I try to help and she tells me"domanding, domanding Teneng(my Gambian name), bare nu jejek fanfan" (Slowly,slowly, Teneng, but you are doing very well). We walk home together carrying palm leaves on our heads. She will spend the night making brooms to sell at the local market. I return back to my house, tired and looking forward to a bucket bath. Most of the women return later at night to finish cooking dinner and other household chores. I can see it in their face and body, they are tired, but also, it is all that they know, it is their work, their life.

These past few months I have been trying to spend a lot of time with my host family. I have learned the art of “etempey” (pounding) and the gracefulness of balancing buckets on my head. I have rode miles on my bike just to eat a boiled mango, taught an aids workshop/testing to find about 20% who tested are HIV positive (2 are good friends),swam in the rice patties with the children, been stuck in a torrential rainstorm conveniently next to bean sandwich lady, out-planted numerous amount of trees in my village, had termites eat away half my ceiling, been stuck in a gele for 4 hours in the mud(rainy season travel),and have slept many nights on my front porch with my younger brothers and sisters. But, no matter how long I live in this small village (4 compounds…at most 30 people), I will never really fully understand their life how they struggle day to day. I can try, and hopefully, before my two years of service is finished, I can help one person follow their dreams.

Here are a few photos on some projects I have been working on and some of me and my family. Enjoy!

Hospital planting.
Currently all the trees are surviving…lets hope they keep the goats tied up. And remember, in a few years these trees will be large. These trees are grown from seed or transplanted after one or two years in the nursery…this isn’t like America landscaping, a little more difficult. Can you find the trees?

Village gardening:
Planted bamboo, cucumber, sugar cane, pumpkin, moringa, cassava in backyard. No photos yet of women’s garden planting, soon to come, but all the trees are doing well and surviving.

I adore my host family. Many of the children in my compound are refugees from Cassamace, Senegal. I don’t know what I would do without them…..they entertain me all hours of the day

Thanks for a few care packages I have received the past few months(family and Doblecki’s!) I really appreciate it and it makes my day receiving them at site. THANK YOU!


Mary Ellen said...

Dear Kat,
I am so amazed by you and the women in your compound. I can't wait to pick your brain whenever I get to see you.
When your mom visits you you'll have to take pictures of her on the gele(?) and post them on your blog. I have to have something to tease her about! She is really looking forward to her trip to the Gambia. It's not the Devonshire in London, but I'm sure a lot more interesting.
Congratulations on the growing trees. It sounds like you are having quite a bit of success.
I'm meeting your mom in Bermuda this coming weekend. We always have a great time with lots of laughs.
By the way, Jo's email address is It's different now that she is married.
Stay well and fight the good fight.
Love ya,
Aunt ME

jeepmud said...

Kat - I love it and I want to visit. Drop me a line @ - I am off all September and can come anytime. Let me know!