Saturday, January 3, 2009

A Very Merry Christmas and Happy 2009 to All of You.

Hello all:)
Well it’s officially been a year of service here in The Gambia and I have to say its been one to remember. I’m anticipating a speedy next year due to projects/work being in full swing and the feeling of urgency to take the things in that I didn’t get to last time.

I now know the rhythms of this place and yes it took a year. Now I know that mango season last only 2 months and then there is not a mango to be found for the rest of the year. I know that rainy season is full of mold, amazing rain storms, and is the one element that changes the African bush into a hot humid green jungle (of sorts). The dry season is DRY and DUSTY; the sun is so penetrating that to can feel your soul getting sun burnt and all turns to brown. The people I’ve met and the things I’ve seen have left a long term impression on me that will forever allow me to see and understand the world a little differently. I have been blessed with dear friendships that will last the rest of my life and made acquaintances that I will never forget. My work here has forever changed my definition of work, what is work, how things work and I will never again take for granted the value of a good functioning job. Also my view of the US and the meaning of home has changed significantly. But above all, this year has opened my eyes to the beauty, amazement, bewilderment and shock of the whole world and I long and hope my life is full for travel, in the US and abroad.

My Environmental Ed Club in village.
My "Kids"
So one more year to go. For this next year… I hope, I hope, I hope some of my projects will be prosperous and sustainable. I hope to make a mark, any kind of mark. I need to travel!! I haven’t left this country and need to see other parts of Africa!! I’m going to eat too many mango's. Dance in the streets, during a big rain storm, even if the adults think I’m crazy. Do some African bush camping. Join the women in their fields more during rice season (it is the hardest job). And to take all the kids from my village out in nature and show them something that will make them squirm with wonder. We will see.

Village boys playing in the rain.

I had a wonderful Christmas and an amazing New Year, by the way, one that I shall always remember. I missed you all so very much and you were not far from my thoughts.

Hugs from Gambia

Look who came to spend X-mas with me. Fun times:)

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

I very delayed Hello

Hello everyone!! So sorry it’s been so long since I’ve written. I can believe it’s been since August, time is just flying by. Things here are very well, still happy and healthy. My birthday was so much fun; turning 32 in the Gambia was a delight. I got a call from a few of you, which was wonderful. It always makes my day/month to talk to my beloved friends and fam. For the day, all my good friends came into town to help me celebrate, we cooked a delicious dinner and I made pineapple cake for everyone.
I’ve come into kombo to doing some work and for the elections (Obama won hurray!). My work has picked up I’m very happy to say. I’ve started a new and improved Environmental Club at the Lower Basic School in Dumbuto. Also the school has built a huge cinderblock fence behind the school which will be developed into a school garden/orchard and partly to be used as a community garden. I will be helping with the designing and planting, it will be awesome.
I’m the new Regional Coordinator/judge for the All Gambian Tree Nursery Competition; this is a contest the schools can participate in. The goal is to have the school establish a tree nursery where students will grow native trees, all while learning about the importance of the trees and their environment. They then go out plant the trees in the bush as a reforestation effort. I organize and inform all the schools in my region (about 100 schools with about 25-50 who participate) and I’m also one of judges that look at the nursery’s and effort of the school and students. Its hard work but really fun and it gives me an opportunity to see the remote villages in my region and to work with the school system and Gambia’s Forest Service.
I have organized a beekeeping workshop at Kiang West headquarters and I think it is going to actually happen I’ve been trying to get something like this going all year but with very little success but things are looking very promising. Peace Corps and the National Beekeepers Association of Gambia are coming on Nov. 21-22 to do the first part (the seconded part will be in Dec.) of a very intensive educational and hands on workshop for 25-30 Gambians from neighboring villages. You can mach SO MUCH $$ here in honey and there are native hives that can be constructed with on need for any money up front. Plus I will be able to help out and get my beekeeping groove on. I really enjoy beekeeping and plan on having a hive when I get home so in the future if you need honey you should keep me in mind.
The park is finally getting some much needed, very overdue TLC. Some of the rundown lodges are getting refurbished and the road to the park headquarters is getting worked on so it will be car savvy. I had no part in the organization of this but I’m told my monthly bitching to the Dept. of Parks and Wildlife Management has helped tons. This will allow people to actually come and enjoy/visit/stay at the park, now it’s barely being used.
Village life has been good! Everyone is harvesting their rice, millet, maze, and peanuts, it’s been a good growing season and everyone is very happy about that. The rainy season was very wet, last year rainy season was very dry and many crops failed. It stormed 2-4 times a week. I’ll miss the storms they are amazing. The rice I helped the women get, the ATM3 super rice, is a big hit. I ask the women, ”Ila maanoo be naadii?”(How is your rice doing?). And they respond “Tallaa maanoo a beteyaata bake!” (Amber rice is so awesome). They have named the rice after me and tell me they will always remember me, so sweet. I’m happy their happy. They (the women) amaze me! They walk 7km to the river everyday (a walk that takes 2-3 hours) to harvest and protect their fields. My father told me that the women I heard crying the other day lost most of her crop to wild animals (the monkeys and bush pigs eat it), so it will be really hard for her this next year. When the women aren’t in the fields they are cooking (camp style), gathering wood, watching their kids, doing the families laundry (by hand), fetching water, organizing events etc. The men do very little except work in the fields of a few month of the year and build things if it’s needed, the rest of the time they are “relaxing” or socializing in the shade somewhere. I’m just saying the women here kick major ass. So now the rainy season has tapered off and it hasn’t rained for 2 weeks, the humidity has dropped and its about 70-75 at night which is freezing to me now (I’m going to be in sooo much trouble when I get home). However during the day the sun, my God the Sun, is so F-ing hot, it’s rays in compose you and you can feel them penetrating your skin. Most people, myself included, stay inside or under the shade of a tree between 11-3pm, it’s actually really dangerous. I would say it reaches maybe around 120 degrees in the sunshine.
My personal life is very well. I still have my occasional bought of home sickness but they come and I miss you all and then it goes. Over all I’m very happy. I’ve started doing yoga and running on a daily bases which has helped me stay physically fit. I realized how out of shape I’ve been in and its time to get on and stay on the fitness wagon. I’m still learning guitar and playing everyday. Reading lots of books just finished “Out of Africa”, very good. My two cats are getting big and catching lots of bugs and mice. I plan to be kombo for Thanksgiving and I’ve noticed that the phone connection is much better when I’m here so if any of you want to give me a ring…
So that’s all for now. I miss you all terribly and hope all is well. Please enjoy some of that beautiful Portland Autumn weather for me, I miss it so.

Big hugs from Amber in Africa

PS I've tryed to post some photos but it's not working for some reason:(

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Just chillen.

Hello everyone:) I hope all is well with you all. Miss everyone! I know its been a while but there is nothing really going on. The end of September will mark a year here in The Gambia, which is crazy to think about. It is a down time. People are working in the fields and Ramadan is starting in a few days. During this month long Islam holiday, Muslims will fast (no food or water) from sunrise to sunset. This is a time of reflection and forgiveness. I have decided to do a little fasting so I can see what my fellow Gambians are going through also to understand how hard it is to do it for a month (people get very grumpy). Plus I think is cruel to ask my family to cook for me when they are fasting and hungry.

I am still doing smashing. I'm excited for school to get back in session (on Sept. 15th) so I can start the Environmental Club again, its sooo much fun. The kids love it and I feel like I'm doing some real work. I'm helping plan and establish a school orchard. Also helping out on "perfecting" the school garden.

Work at the park is slow due to dysfunctional and politics. Its really hard to put energy into something that is uneventful and pointless (sorry to say). So I'm waiting to see how some things go. I'm going to start a tree nursery and grow Moringa trees which have nutritional value and want to start some bee hives. Also I'm collaborating with another PCV and trying to develop wildlife survey protocol and schedule for all the National Parks in The Gambia. They do flora and fauna surveying but the records are few are fare between. So we want to prefect it and get it rolling for now and the future.

I've excepted some positions within PC so I can keep busy until things get rollen again in a month or three.

Other that every things is great. I have a friend coming to visit me in December for Christmas which I'm ecstatic about. The rainy season is still in full swing so everything is green and lush and beautiful. Plus the storms and sunsets are amazing. I have also adopted two kittens that I'm raising until they are big enough to defend for themselves, they will probably become my outdoor cats, but they are super cute and very entertaining. Reading lots o books, doing lots o yoga, playing lots o guitar, playing with my garden/growing some good stuff and doing lots of exploring. I have realized that my picture taking has slowed down quite a bit so I'm going to remedy that.

So... to close (for now) I'm going to include some of my favorite photos, most are artsy; all have a story.

Will write more soon. sending hugs to you all. Amber

Friday, July 4, 2008

Walla walla ding ding:)

Hello everyone! First, Happy 4th o July! I will be missing hangen out & doing 4th stuff my with peeps. Second, I'm sorry I haven't written sooner. Its been two months & I'm sure you are wondering whats become of me. I'm very well and still enjoying The Gambia. Things have defiantly normalized for me in village (fetching water, growing my food, laundry by hand, the community based living, language, etc.) but now what is surprising me is what the new season brings.
April-May was prime mango season. I'm lucky to live in Kiang West because the surrounding bush is littered with mango trees. These trees swell & droop with their big nibblets. One of the daily sounds included the heavy drop of this big fruit which was followed by the running of children's feet. I ate about five mango's a day and they where delicious.

The big project Ive been working on these last months has been setting up a tree nursery at Dumbuto lower basic school. Gambia has been subjected to major deforestation in the last 20 years and the government/environmental agencies are trying to push tree planting. To help, The Gambia holds an Annual Nursery Tree Competition where nursery's are established on the school grounds and eventually the trees are out planted in the bush. This tree nursery competition have judges from the Forestry Service and a Peace Corps that go around and look at the number and quality of the nursery's. The winners (1st-3rd place) get tools for their school gardens. I will become a judge for my region next year.

Growing mango's, chews & mahogany. Grow baby grow.

This is a spot we call the g-spot (dubbed the girls spot). There friends and I go to watch the sunset when we are in kombo. I find the spot enchanting and the fact that no one is around is astonishing.

Chillen like villains.

So now its July and it is officially the rainy season. After not a drop o rain, it now rains on a regular basis. Then temperature has gone down about 10 degrees but its been replaced by 100% humidity at the peak of the day. Its really nice to have the rains come in and this weather reminds me a ton of Portland in Spring time. The thunder & lightning storms here, which roll through regularly, are amazing! These storms are nothing like I've ever seen back home, the big ones are actually really scary and intense, which if you know me well I totally dig on.
With the beginning of the rainy season comes the beginning of the farming season. If you want to eat here in The Gambia you have to grow it. The men grow coos and sorghum crops and the women grow the rice. In the morning and evening my village grows quiet because everyone is out in their fields. This will cont. until Dec or Jan. I myself have acquired a small plot out side the village where I will grow about a kg of rice seed. I'm excited to go out and work with the women, they are a hoot.

Its very hard work thou, no machine you can sit on and do the work for you, its all by hand.
My mother Jara prepping her rice plot. I love her, she is amazing.

Hello Green!!! Flowers and grasses are growing and the bush has become lush and beautiful. A big change from dry, brown, desolates of the dry season. This is a baboon that we named Booboo. She was rescued from a family a few villages down. Booboo was raised by her human "care givers" as a form of income to entertain people at the luumos or weekly markets. This is illegal here just like in the States but not really regulated. Booboo will dance and play dead for her food which is reactionary for her. Unfortunately she is very imprinted and releasing her back in the wild will be a great challenge.

She likes to make sure your clean. She will always sneak up behind me and start grooming me, a social and bonding behavior they do for each other. Its her way of telling me "I think your cool and we can hang".

With the rains come clouds, which give way to beautiful sunsets. This was taken from my back yard. However I'm scoping out a sunset picture taking spot.

I wish I had some amazing story to tell but things have been really good and the strangeness of Gambia has become quaint and predictable for me. What hasn't changed is the fact that I miss you all terribly. Your calls, letters and e-mails make my bouts of homesickness more bearable, thank you a thousand times over. I will make a better effort to post anything that you all might find interesting, even if its mainly photos (they speak a thousand words you know).

Big hugs from Africa, your Amber:)

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Beeeezzaa & Honey

Hello everybody! I hope you are all well and miss you all terribly. These last two weeks I've been in IST training and its been a ball. The subjects of this training were beekeeping, fruit tree nurseries, tree grafting and gardening. I really enjoyed the beekeeping as you will see.
Me making a native bee hive out of grass. Its like making a basket:)

The Bees

As I said beekeeping was completely thrilling. I only got stung once but it wasn't when I was invading the hive stealing the bees loot, it was a random act of nature that occurred while walking through a Cashew orchard. The suits are fun! I took a few moments to pretend I was an astronaut and a member of a bio hazard control unit, characters the suit satisfied.

The practice hive and gear.

I was part of a group of 4 and we each had a job. One is a cutter (cutter of the comb), a light source, a bucket manager and a smoker. I was the smoker. Once we maneuvered are way into our oversized bee suits we walked through a Cashew orchard to there the hives where. And like a thief in the night (@ night bees are calmer) we smoked them, grabbed their gold and looked over the intricate workings of the colony, all this while beeing swarmed by female workers. The workers are the gathers and protectors of the hive and they let us know by swarming us, buzzing in our ears and covering us with their "gettem scent".
My bee task force!
Our honey!!!!
We got a heaping bucket of honey and the next day we learned how to extract the honey, process the bees wax, make bees wax hand & foot cream and marketing of it all.

Yummy yummy honey in my tummy;)

Extracting honey for the comb.

Ok don't freak but I ate 5 bees that had drowned in honey. Very sweet and a little crunchy. Its a common thing to do after harvest, honest.
I'm going to try to set up some hives at the National Park in the hopes that it will be a source of income for the park, which it needs. Slowly Slowly as they say. After the bee charming we moved onto trees and grafting. I'm learning some really cool skills that I've always been interested in, I just hope I can put them to use someday.
Citrus Nursery
So now that the training is over I have to say good bye to my wonderful peeps and friend here, head back to site and start some REAL work. I may not be able to write next month because I need to stay at site and invest some much needed time. But I plan I writing lots of letters. So keep your eyes on your mailboxes.
The pic below shows a local Gambian paper and one of headline is "Peace Corps Volunteers Not CIA Agents", funny;).
I miss you all and thinking of you:)