Monday, February 2, 2009

Collapse of the gingerbread house

Arriving back from school I stroll into my village to meet my host brothers, who stand in front of my house with scowls on their face. “Teneng!”(my Gambian name) they shout. “A large thump came from your home!” I grin at them like this is another joke-slowly open my door to find my old cardboard ceiling lying on the floor. The rats run around eating my newly harvested vegetables, a small creature slithers in the corner, and dust/dirt covers my cracked cement floor. My home, which has slowly started to deteriorate through the seasons, has ultimately collapsed. My house made of cardboard and corrugate that I decorated with sugar cane and bamboo, flowers and veggies was now being eaten. That afternoon I spent with my family attacking the place with brooms and buckets till it was spotless. I still have no roof-only small corrugate sheets that lay on top. At night I find the bats come out at 7:19 on the dot. I sit with Gib and Ajai and watch them fly around. If I blow out my candle the bats stay, the kids and I run around and laugh when a bat whizzes by one of our heads. So much energy fills the room I want to soak myself in it. We all smile and return to the nightly fire which we know will soon be gone in a week when the heat returns. But for now we bundle up close and we chat about family, life and dreams while surrounded by this affection that I hope will never go away.

The next morning, still feeling the energy from the local kids, I wake up early to bike the hour ride to Bwiam to visit the local hospital. Here I find myself in a room surrounded by toubabs (white men).We sit and chat about development, our projects, and food (of course). All of us here for different reasons (doctors, electricians, environmentalists and teachers) we debate for a while where the starting point is for many of the Gambian’s problems. All here for a different cause, but focusing on resolving the issue of extreme poverty and unsanitary conditions. We see the potential in this local hospital, we have it in our minds what it can be-but it is getting that idea across to the local's that is the problem. How do we get there? Is it through education, health, or environment? Or is it the culture, government, and beliefs where it begins? Out of all of these projects which will succeed, and why? What will happen once that patient gets medicine, that tree grows, or that light bulb gets turned on. Will things change? Or will it deteriorate like my house. It will appear flawless from the outside, but soon, when no one is looking, it will collapse.

Life here is unpredictable, and projects never seem to run smoothly, that is one excitement that Africa has. I think about change daily here, and wonder about my host family’s future. I can only hope that the children will get educated, they will stop receiving beatings by my host father, and one night we won’t have rice for dinner. But at this moment I work on the small things. Assisting a village build a community garden so they can generate income and feed their family, working with the school to promote environmental education and creative arts, promoting the use of vegetables in the diet of the numerous malnourished people in my small village, and helping my host family garden, cook, plant, and discover the life that they know is out there but can’t seem to reach from their tiny house in The Gambia. The more and more I learn their struggles, I have respect for them and try to encourage that things will get better. One day their child may not have to pay for school, physical labor will not be necessary for day to day jobs, and they will have the freedom to roam the world as I do. I wish all the other aid workers in The Gambia, or in Africa, can get to know the families around them and their stories, we have a lot to learn from them and it will help us get closer to our goal of a safer, healthier and stable environment for Africa.


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