I DARE you to call me toubab one more time, I swear…

Hello all! If you haven’t noticed, the whole toubab thing is starting to get to me. I’m getting frustrated in general to be honest. I feel like I’m in a fish bowl. People point and shout at me constantly and neighbors will laugh and talk about the stupid things that toubab next door does. Not speaking the language is extremely isolating. I wish I could communicate better with everyone, it would make life a lot easier. This has made me realize how valuable it is to know multiple languages. What’s even more lonely is I miss being touched. I miss holding hands, I miss being hugged, I miss high fives, I miss kisses. I’m sure these feelings will fade but even though everyone is so welcoming, I still feel alone. Thank God I met my friend Jean Marc, a French Canadian who is interning at an NGO here. On Saturday he and I went to Bakau to look at the shops and go to the beach. The ocean has never felt so refreshing! And now I can say that I’ve swam on both ends of the Atlantic Ocean. He then introduced me to some of his co-workers who are from Burkina Faso and South Africa. We all went to a bar, drank Gambian brews, and watched the Champions League final match amidst a bunch of riled up Gambians. It was a much needed night out and speaking English never felt so right. We talked about a whole host of issues about Africa, shared some laughs and had really stimulating conversations. I really enjoyed it. 

The past few days have been pretty lazy, though I did log in some hours at the archives. It is such a powerful feeling to hold documents from the early 1900s and late 1800s that were correspondence between The Gambia and Great Britain during the colonial period. I feel like I am getting a front row seat to history. Unfortunately I’m not finding the kind of slave documents I was hoping to find, so the direction of my project may be shifting. I’m really into education records and tracking the progress of women’s education here so I may talk to Dr. Sarr and see if I can do something regarding that. We’ll see.

Just like there are Christians in America who invade your space and shove their religion down your throat, there are Muslims here who do the same. I accidentally bought a woven Muslim prayer mat thinking it was a beach mat (seriously, it looked like a beach mat) and so many people thought I was a Muslim. When I told one women that, no, I in fact was not a Muslim, she sat me down for a talk. She told me all about the values of Islam and why I should consider converting. She told me she would teach me to pray. I thanked her for the advice and began to walk away but she was persistent. The language barrier did not help at all. She finally gave up and told me she was sad that I would be going into hell-fire and not paradise. I guess I’ll be careful about not buying prayer mats any more!

I know that these trials are just part of the experience. I am really starting to miss America, but with 17 days left I know I have a lot to still learn before I am back on American soil. I did walk to the store and I bought a sprite and a twix bar. I also eagerly bought spam for Musu to fix for dinner. It’s amazing how the little things can really help. Well, I must go plug in my computer before the electricity goes out again! Until next time…

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For the night, I was one of them

Hello all! It’s been a busy two days in The Gambia, but I have been able to experience some illuminating cultural cornerstones of Gambian life. On Thursday, Musu took me to a portion of the Serrekunda Market so she could stock up on food and spices. She warned me that many of the women in the market would not want their picture taken because they felt they were being exploited by the white man (another damn legacy of colonialism). When we arrived at the market, my senses were immediately overwhelmed. There were so many people in such an enclosed space and they were shouting and gesturing wildly. Men were shoveling waste and garbage in a very narrow canal, releasing a very strong, pungent smell. Women dominated the market, selling their goods under umbrellas with their babies strapped to their backs. There was a variety of vegetables, fruits and spices, as well as soccer balls, coals and bags of oil. Fish and butchered meats were displayed for purchase, garnished, of course, with hoards of flies. I had a hard time breathing because it was so crowded, I didn’t want to smell through my nose, and I didn’t want to let any flies into my mouth. Musu took me by the hand and guided me through every twist and turn, and we ended coming out with some oysters, chicken, oil and spices. I’m really grateful to have experienced an African food market, but I’m not sure I want to go back any time soon.

 Last night, Musu invited me to join her in attending a wedding reception for a bride in the compound across from us. Her sister, Siga, insisted that I wear African dress and that made me so happy. She kept laughing at how much I smiled when she was tying up my skirt. After taking some pictures, Musu and I met up with her friends and walked over to the compound. As soon as I entered, I felt that wearing an African dress was a mistake. Women and children were pointing and laughing at me. I felt so angry that Siga would put me in this position and my feelings were hurt because I just wanted to show respect and I wanted to be apart of the culture. I immediately expressed my feelings to Musu and she quieted and stopped laughing. When we found our seats, I sat quietly and took in my surroundings. We were sitting along one side of a square compound, and women lined the entire courtyard. Musu informed me that only women came to wedding reception. It was a Muslim wedding, so the proceedings had taken place earlier in the day, which consisted of the men of the bride’s family and the men of the groom’s family meeting in the mosque, splitting a Kola Nut (a sign of friendship) and praying for the couple. Now the bride and her bridal party entered to African music and sat down on a couch with flowers at the top of the courtyard. At this point, family members began to hand out snacks of popcorn, chips and sweet bread. This was followed by some sort of sweet wine (a little too sweet for my liking), and then finally chicken and spicy pasta noodles. While the food was being distributed, the aunts of the bride displayed all the gifts they were giving to the bride so she could make a suitable housewife. After the reception, the bride would be escorted to her new husbands home with all of her gifts where her husband would be waiting to deflower his virgin bride (whether she was a virgin or not is to be determined). Some speeches were given in Wolof, then the music really kicked in. Musu and her friends assured me that they would not laugh and encouraged me to dance with them. I shook my head and stayed in my seat. Then I looked around and saw everyone dancing and laughing and it was then that I decided I didn’t care if I was a spectacle. When else would I have the opportunity to celebrate at an African Muslim wedding and wear African attire? With that thought, I got up and I danced my butt off with Musu and had a wonderful time. By the time we left, I was exhausted and sweaty and ready for bed.

It is the weekend now and I have plenty more adventures ahead. I will try to update this again as soon as possible! Have a great weekend everybody!

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How does one describe Gatorade?

But seriously…how do you describe Gatorade to someone who can barely speak English? I tried really hard today to explain to Musu what I was drinking that was neon purple, but I don’t think that I succeeded. I think she experiences the same thing with me a lot- I ask a lot of questions about food, trees and people and I think she has a hard time trying to describe things that I have never seen or heard of before.  While it may be frustrating at times, it is a good learning experience.

In the past week, I think I have had over a dozen marriage proposals (not to worry, Parker- I said no to them all). It’s absolutely absurd that men (and even little boys) come up to me and quite seriously ask me if I will marry them and be their partner. It’s more about money than anything else, but they always try to convince me and the best I can do is produce a weak smile, wave and tell them that somebody is expecting me. At least they aren’t afraid of me though…I approached a little girl in my neighborhood today and she started hysterically crying and ran away. All of the women just laughed but I was taken aback, I couldn’t believe a little girl was that scared of me!

Today I began my research at the National Archives and Records in the capital city Banjul. It was a lot more organized than I thought it would be and everyone there was eager to help me find what I was looking for. I spent about three hours there before heading into town and finally purchasing a phone and a data card for my computer. Now that I have my data card, I can show you all what I’ve been doing!

Musu's CompoundThis is Musu’s compound, aka where I am living. She has the top left floor, as well as the roof above it where she hangs all of the clothes to dry. There are some great views from up there.

IMG_1056This is a picture I took at the beach around sunset. The most popular time to go to the beach here is around sunset because it is too hot during the day.

MariThis is my sunshine in Africa, Mari. This is in the living room

monkeyAnnnnd this is me with a monkey. It’s taking about 15 to download each picture so this will be my last!

Musu just served me dinner. She is so thoughtful, she went to the store and bought spam because we have spam in America. It’s not bad to be honest, she fried it up nicely and put ketchup on top. I must go and attempt to shovel down all this food to make her happy. I will be in touch again soon!

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Y’all, I’m Changing My Name to ‘Toubab’

Hello everyone! I’m sorry that it has taken so long for me to write a post, I have just been busy and have not had time at the internet cafe to write a sufficient blog. Once I get a data card for my computer it will be easier to blog more regularly.

After an exhausting set of flights I found myself in the heat of the Gambia. Dr. Sarr’s brother Ousainou picked me up from the airport and pointed out various places on our way to Musu’s compound in Serrekunda. Musu is the eldest sister of Dr. Sarr’s best friend and she is the woman who I am staying with. She is very kind and eager to please, but also very stern. She fixes me enough food each meal for 5 people and I feel awful when I bring her my plate that is still 3/4 full of food. The food is not awful…it is usually rice and fish. I actually ate piranha the other day and I have to say that it is my favorite dish that she has cooked for me so far! Musu has a two year old daughter named Mari and she might be my favorite part of The Gambia so far. For anyone who knows me, I’m not a big fan of children. This little girl, however, has stolen my heart. She has the greatest personality and even though she has so few things to play with, she has a great imagination and is always smiling. I spend at least a few hours each day playing with her on the porch of the compound. I am becoming fast friends with Musu’s sister Siga. She takes me on walks to meet people and see places and she is currently teaching me some Wolof so I can better communicate with people. The people here are incredibly friendly…every person I pass on the street takes time to smile and greet me. The children all call me “toubab” which means white person. I am called that so much that I joke around with Dr. Sarr that I am going to change my name to Toubab because it’s easier. I have been told that Gambia’s nickname is “The Smiling Coast.” In the tourist part of town there are people the locals call “bumsters” who harass you to buy their stuff, but they are harmless. I am lucky to be staying with a family in the local part of town so I do not have to deal with the bumsters very often!

Though I’ve only been here for a mere 5 days, I have done some pretty cool things so far. I went to a local event called an “egere,” which is essentially a festival/parade in the community where the hunting society puts on masks and grass outfits and they play drums and dance. I have also been to the beach. It was both similar to the beaches of the lowcountry and also different. I saw some pretty bizarre animals that I will have to post pictures of once I get a data card. The smell of the ocean reminded me of home and I felt really comforted by the beach. I made a friend on the plane who is French Canadian and we have hung out once. We visited a national park and saw a lot of interesting animals, flora and fauna. The monkeys there are very friendly and will come right up to you to search your hands for food. I also saw some Baobab trees that were over 800 years old. The Baobab trees are my favorite and they are everywhere. They live as long as 4000 years and that just baffles me. I really like the eco-tourism here and want to visit more parks  when I get the chance.

I should be starting my research tomorrow and I am excited for that! I can’t wait to post pictures to show you all what I am doing/seeing. If you all have any questions about my experience, please comment and I will answer. Hopefully I will be able to write a more detailed blog soon!

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“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones that you did. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain

The countdown to Africa is now at less than two weeks. There are few occasions I’ve ever been this excited about, but I’m also more scared than I’ve ever been. Having never traveled out of the country I’m extremely nervous about the long flight and scared of the unknown. I know this trip will probably be one of the best experiences of my life and that I will grow from this experience, but I’m missing my loved ones already. I keep telling myself that I cannot let my fears get in the way. So far it’s working but I know that I will be shaking as I step onto the plane May 15.

For those of you who don’t know, I am a major in history with a minor in African studies and political science. My passion lies in studying African history and I hope to apply to an African history graduate program after graduating next year. This past February I applied for a summer research grant with my professor and mentor Dr. Sarr in hopes to have funds to do a research trip to Africa. After a lot of hard work and crossing fingers, we were awarded the grant and now we are off to Africa! Dr. Sarr is originally from The Gambia so I have the good fortune of travelling with a local who can show me the ins and outs of life in West Africa. While in West Africa I will be travelling throughout the Gambia and Senegal, meeting academics and government officials, visiting archives and museums, conducting interviews and getting a taste of how to conduct research in Africa.

I will try to update this blog as much as possible once in Africa!

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