Friday, November 7, 2008

Toubab...give me your soul

I lay on the floor of the Banjul ferry waiting for a lady selling groundnuts to walk by. I am hungry, exhausted, and covered with a dusty orange glow. My day was spent traveling from Dakar to Banjul in the back of a gele with a small malnourished child on my lap. I can’t feel my legs and my feet look 3 times the normal size.f The road from Dakar is not only bad-but inexistent. It is a roller coaster ride the whole way down, twists and turns, ups and downs through dirt fields and shanty towns. I lay on the floor of the ferry, sprawled out with my bag safely underneath me. I try to fall asleep for the hour ride until I hear a lady say “groundnuts a fele” (groundnuts are here). She takes the basket off the top of her head and hands me a bundle wrapped in a piece of old newspaper, heaven.

When the ferry pulls in to the city I crowd in with the mass of people and push my way off. The minute I step off the ferry hassling begins. “Toubab, give me bottle. Toubab, give me minty.” (Toubab =white man) Men, women and children grab at me like I hold the winning lottery ticket. I have to aggressively push
 them away as I walk to the nearest car park. The first gele pulls up and people thrust themselves in. In order to get a seat I must shove women and small children out of the way. After a half hour of fighting for a gele I sit down on a torn leather seat, almost there. The man who sits next to me immediately asks where my husband is and insists that he will make me his third wife. I firmly say no and have to restrain myself from hitting him; it has been a long day. I look away and stare out the cracked window at the overwhelming scene of trash piles. I have to cover my face with a piece of cloth to shield the dust and hide the smell. This life here, it is not easy, especially traveling alone.

These past two weeks I have been spoiled. My friend Brett came to visit me from America. It was so nice to travel with someone and not get hassled-though I am sure he would tell you differently. We ran into our fair share of attempted pickpocketer’s in Dakar and had numerous beggars at the local market. To be a traveler in West Africa, you must be confident and forceful if you ever want to survive.

We traveled though Dakar and The Gambia for 2 weeks. In Senegal we ate some great food, hiked around Goree and N’Gor islands and shopped at the local market. The Mediterranean style architecture and the old slave houses were remarkable to explore on Goree Island. While at N’Gor we spent a day at the Endless Summer surf house hanging out with the laid back locals. It was great to be on vacation, but oh, how I couldn’t wait to show him the “real” Africa. The next day we were off on the day long roller coaster ride to The Gambia.

While in The Gambia we traveled to my village. This is my first visitor here and my host family greeted him with open arms. The children gathered daily around my screen door to see my stranger. We hosted a disco one night and watched the children work in thebush to gather palm leaves to make the fence. My host brother killed a chicken in his honor while my mother cooked us macaroni over the open fire. It was very encouraging for me to 
have a guest in the village that I have lived in the past year. All of 
a sudden I can speak the local language, where before I thought I was struggling. I see the bonds that I have with my host family are strong and irreplaceable. The small boys loved having a white man around to follow and admire. I know that Brett’s visit to my village will be talked about forever and my family will always be asking to have him return.

I am back to work for the time being. Keeping track of the trees I planted,environmental ed classes, and gardening. Most nights I still sit on the cracked cement porch with my family, and I somehow miss them even though they are right next to me. I know that one more year will go by fast, I will leave, these people will stay, and all we will have are memories. The kids hug me daily as if it was their last, and my host mother’s greet me like it is my first day in village. Binta Badji (one of my host mother’s) is still cracking her jokes, even though the wrinkles on her face seem to get deeper everyday from her days in the rice fields. She has character, and makes me laugh till I cry. 
Nightly I find her hiding behind my front porch jumping out to scare the small children like a ten year old girl playing tag. She chases the children with a sugar cane stick in the dark. I can only see her eyes, but I can hear her cackle for miles. Binta, she hides her anger through laughter, where Teneng (my brother’s wife), doesn’t hide a thing. She yells daily at the children, and at me. I will not lie, I am scared of her. The comments she makes are fierce and I don’t want to be around her when she is back from a day in the field. I have seen her laugh twice, both times forced where I can see her soul crying behind her smile. Daily I watch her pound the rice with force, and can hear her screams frommiles over the beating rhythm of the pestles. She is hurting, I don’t know what she has been through, and probably never will, but she has an old, tired soul and needs a rest. Both women I extremely admire. I can only hope to be old one day with Binta’s profound wrinkles and Teneng's heartbreaking strength. To travel through life unscarred and intact, not an option here in The Gambia, nor for me.

Mom and dad are next to visit. Be ready for an experience  of a lifetime. It is a tough culture here. To get to my village is difficult and a long, demanding journey. When we arrive we will be dusty, dirty and exhausted. But, when we step off the geleand you see the children come running to greet us from under the palm trees you will understand why I am here. Their is an unexplainable peace in this madness, and you must see it, live it to believe it. 

Miss you all and thanks again to all my visitors. It means the world to me to have people come out here and support the work I am doing.