First Assessment Trip May 2016

May 5th – 7th

Travel, travel, travel.

Two days after finals ended, our team packed up and got on a plane in Columbus.  Everyone, minus Tony, would fly from Columbus to Chicago O’Hare and then to Brussels.  We would meet up with Tony in Brussels where the whole team would fly to Senegal, pit stop in Dakar, and then continue on to Banjul.  In total it was around 36 hours of travel time.  Passing time on the flights varied from conversations about school, to listening to music, watching movies, or sleeping.  The group favorite was sleeping, although watching 6 movies was definitely worth the lack of sleep.

After 36 long hours, we arrived in Banjul to meet Isatou, her son Modou, and two volunteers, Awa and Roka.  The weather was beautiful and warm, not humid.  Splitting into different taxis we got our first experience with driving in Banjul.  The roads didn’t have very many cars, but cutting through a gas station at a corner to get through a red light was normal.  We made our way to Mango Lodge which is where we would stay for the night before going to the community the next day.

The lodge was splendid and we all took the opportunity to stick our feet in the pool in the courtyard.  We spent time playing cards with the volunteers and Modou, practicing names and getting to know each other better. Isatou and the women left before dinner, but Modou stayed with us for the night.  We sat outside under the stars and got to eat our first dish in the country, chicken domoda.  It is a rice based dish with a brown peanut sauce on top.  In the sauce is chicken, bitter tomatoes, carrots, and other vegetables.  It was a group favorite as we stuffed our faces trying to not get scared by the ninja cat at the lodge.  It had no problem coming out of nowhere and jumping on you trying to get to the food.

That night we split into different rooms and got to experience outdoor showers.  I regret to admit that I didn’t enjoy the cold shower, but I should have, since it was the last time I felt cold for a while.  The stars were out and you could hear donkeys, goats, and other animals throughout the night.  Nighttime animal sounds would become a common thing.

Memory of the Day: Getting through baggage claim and being worried our med bag would get held back. We made it through somehow.

Picture of the Day: Courtyard of the Mango Lodge.

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May 8th

After a night of rest, the team woke up early to discuss the plans for the day and eat a hodgepodge of cliff bars for breakfast.  Isatou and some of the WIG volunteers picked us up at the lodge and we drove to WIG headquarters in Serekunda.  Inside the compound were homes, a place for cooking, and the main offices for WIG.  We were shown the different projects WIG was working on and the products the women were making.

In order to better understand the culture, we spent the morning with Isatou, Modou, and a peace corp volunteer to learn about cultural norms, key language phrases, and common misconceptions.  The two languages spoken in Njau are Pular and Wolof.  Taking turns practicing key phrases of each language, we learned to say things like “good morning”, “how are you”, and “my name is”.  We were also taught how important greetings are in this culture.  People take time to ask about your life and your family and you do the same.  Even throughout the day there are different sets of greetings.  After some practice and a jeopardy like quiz of our new skill set, we went on to discuss misconceptions Africans have of Americans and vice versa.

One interesting misconceptions about America is that there are no homeless people.  The travel team tried to explain that homelessness is a large issue in America, but it was difficult for the peace corp member to grasp.  Only when Isatou, who has lived in the US, said she has seen it were we able to convince him.  The reason it was hard to grasp was that in Gambia when you have extra, you share.  Extra food is given to people who have little or none and if you need a place to stay one will be provided.  Community is such an important part of this culture that people rarely slip through the cracks.

Finishing up the afternoon we ate a traditional Gambian lunch.  Much to the delight of our team, we had chicken domoda.  In Gambia, the food is usually split between two bowls or plates.  One for females and one for males and kids can eat from either.  You sit on the floor around the bowls and eat with your right hand, since the left is considered unclean.  Everyone struggled at first trying to copy the way we were shown, but there was a lot of rice that had fallen to the floor when we were finished.

That afternoon we packed up our stuff and got in the van to drive to Njau.  The drive to the community took six hours with a ferry ride included.  The van ride was bumpy and hot, but we quickly discovered that most of us could fall asleep just about anywhere.  We arrived late in the night to get settled in the houses where we would be staying during our time in the community.  After getting set up in our mosquito nets and beds we tried to get a good night’s rest before our first full day in the community.

Memory of the Day: Discovering the importance of the fact that it rains 1 meter per year in Columbus, as per Gaj and Christine.

Picture of the Day: Guys getting a picture with our peace corp volunteer at WIG headquarters.

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May 9th

This was our first day in the community and it was jam packed.

Waking up covered in sweat we began to realize the Banjul is on the coast so it is a nice 20-30 degrees cooler than in Njau which is in the middle of the country.  During the day it would be around 110º to 115º and even hotter in the direct sun.  Since Gambia is also a Muslim country we dressed conservatively the duration of the trip with pants and long sleeve shirts.  Sweating became a constant thing.

We woke up at 7:30 am and were brought breakfast.  It looked like oatmeal with larger lumps in it and it tasted almost like a bread pudding.  It was common to put powdered milk or sugar in it and I tried both, it was delicious.  Isatou then brought us the clothes the volunteers had made us for our naming ceremonies.  The girls each got a dress and the guys had shirts made, all of the same matching fabric.

Once we were dressed, we walked over to the learning center in the community where the community members had gathered with the elders.  We all sat around the edge of a stone circle with mats placed in the middle.  The family members and some of the volunteers sat in the circle around the edges. We were called up one by one and we took off our shoes and sat down on the mat.  The elders would then put a bit of water on our hair pretending to shave or wash it and then the naming would start.  As you sat in the middle unsure of what was going on, the different community members would bid on what they wanted your name to be.  Once we were named, we were also given to a family.  Our mother and father would step forward and greet us giving us another article of clothing.  My family gave me a skirt and later a hand spun and dyed top. Some of us also got aunties.

It was funny to watch the bidding go on and it made everyone laugh when Gaj was assigned to a family as he was older than both of his parents and his parents were also two volunteers who weren’t married. It became a running joke that Gaj had been sent back in time to this trip to make his “parents” meet, Terminator style.

The Gambian names were as follows: Tony was Modolamin, Jared was Iebrahem, Emily was Awa, Christine was Isatou, Amy was Cadyatou, Gaj was Yousufa, and mine was Mariama.

When everyone had received a name and a family, plates of food appeared and were passed around. It was a bitter peanut snack a bit like crumbs.  Bowls then appeared and the women started playing them and dancing.  We joined in around the dancing circle and each tried dancing with our moms and the volunteers.  There were varying degrees of success at dancing in our group, but we all enjoyed it.

Once dancing ended we headed back to the compound where we dressed in our normal clothes and broke up into groups to get some work done. Gaj, Christine, and Amy left with Modou to map out water sources and get water to test.  Tony, Jared, Emily, and I went around to map out the layout of the community and to complete family surveys.

We stopped at 6 different houses to speak with the families there.  Isatou would translate for us as we sat under trees and asked a series of questions about family make up, income, health concerns, and improvements they would like to see in their community.  The very first house we went to the woman was so grateful we were taking the time to come to her community that she took the bracelets off her wrists and handed one to Emily and I and then proceeded to go back into her house to grab a bracelet for Jared and a necklace for Tony.  When the necklace turned out to be too small for Tony, she took it off and wrapped it around his wrist to make another bracelet.

Every house we visited we would take notes and ask questions while the family members answered.  They were all grateful we were taking the time to speak with them and it was a great experience to be able to practice some of our phrases and to learn about the community.  We discovered the lack of food was an issue since the crops they grew during the wet season would only last until December and then they would have to buy food to last until the wet season started again in June. The aquifer they pumped their drinking water from was able to supply during the dry season, but they didn’t have enough access to water for sustaining the crops.

Taking this information into account, we headed back to the compound and got back around 5 o’clock.  We were exhausted and learned quickly that the American way of pushing through to get things done wouldn’t work in Gambia, since it was just too hot.  Gaj, Amy, and Christine had only been in the sun an hour then had to come back and rest because of the heat.  For the rest of the trip we adjusted to the Gambian schedule, wake up around 6:30, get work done before 11, and then relax and rest until 4 where you would work until the sun went down around 6 or 7.

As a group we compared notes, drank water, and ate a lunch of rice with chicken and vegetables. Lunch wasn’t until around 5 because of the heat and the women had to cook over the fire.  Dinner was served around 10pm.

With lunch finished, we headed back to the learning center where community members were gathered to discuss things they would like to see improved, from a broken couscous milling machine, to a newer library, to a better way to get water for the garden. The discussion allowed us to get a more complete list of projects to look at and to hear some great feedback from the community.

During the meeting Gaj’s chair broke and he fell at which point everyone broke out laughing and the meeting was paused for a while to joke. Then one of the women got up and started dancing, she was the same lady who had given us our bracelets earlier. She motioned for me to join her so I did and we danced together for a bit before wrapping up the meeting.

We returned to the compound to compare notes and determine what else we needed to get done before leaving the community.  These nightly meetings became a great time to unwind and joke as we tried to work through our sleepiness to be productive.  We sat outside in the dark with headlamps and ate our dinner while we talked, still struggling to eat with one hand.  That night after filtering and treating our water we went to bed around 11:00 pm ready to meet the governor the next day.

Memory of the Day: Gaj’s chair breaking.

Picture of the Day: Amy getting her hair inspected before receiving her Gambian name.

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May 10th

Waking up early the team got ready to go and meet the governor.  We would pack 23 people into the van that we took to the community and drive 3 hours to a river crossing.  Along the way we dropped off and picked up some people.  In Gambia, if you see a person walking you stop to see where they are going and offer them a ride if you can help them get closer to their final destination.  This is a common practice because of the heat and the limited access to cars.

After our three hours in the car, we stopped at a river crossing and got into a boat.  We made our way across the river and then walked to the governor’s office.  It was a nice break from the heat with the fans in his office.  The governor spoke English so we explained the project we were working on and discussed what we were trying to achieve.  He told us he would be interested to see how it worked out and that we might be able to use it as a base for other communities.

Once we finished our meeting we headed back to the van where we ate Gambian pancakes and drank sorrel juice on the drive back to the community.  It was very hot in the van even with the windows open.  Despite this, most everyone took a nap on the way back to the community.

In the compound we all took some time to rest and try to cool off. We bought ice that day and so we put our bandanas in the melted ice to cool off.  We then took a walk to the main water tank in the community that supplies the water to the taps.  It was full, but no water was coming out of the taps, and we couldn’t figure out why.  The tank itself is filled each day by a pump that uses a series of solar panels for its power.

Back at the compound we ate lunch which was catfish domoda and then relaxed.  It was great to spend time with each of the volunteers and learn about them.  We also got to sit and drink Gambian tea.  It is a common part of the day to sit under a tree and drink tea together.  The tea is heated on charcoal with a tiny pot and then it is served in little shot glasses.  It has a very strong taste and is extremely sweet.  Modou loves making tea and so he showed us how to make it and we all tried it.

That evening we walked around the community marking out some more GPS points, before going to the school and looking at the state of the buildings and the library.  We even got to sit in on a class briefly that was  learning the basics of geometry.

At night we filled our 25 gallon jug of water which we took turns pumping through a filter into our clean and empty jug.  We then treated our water with iodine while we discussed the notes we took and how everyone was doing. Key notes, iodine water doesn’t taste great and it also dyes water bottle straws and plastic pieces yellow. The best way to drink iodine water is either to ignore the taste or put lots of Gatorade powder in it.  After dinner we got ready and headed to bed.

Memory of the Day: The different ways of saying aluminum.

Picture of the Day: Group picture with the governor.

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May 11th

This was another jam packed day in the community.  Gaj, Tony, Jared, Modou, and I all woke up early to hike the ridge surrounding the community.  We wanted to get an idea of how big the basin was and understand how flooding could be a problem during the wet season.  From atop the ridge Modou pointed out the next community and told us it was in Senegal.  We joked we could see Senegal from our back mountain.

Once we climbed back down, we walked the drainage ditches in the community, both man-made and natural, taking GPS points so we could map them out when we returned to Columbus.  Making our way back to the compound we took a break from the heat and relaxed.

Later that morning we made our way to the community garden where there was a makeshift meeting pavilion.  There we had our Village Development Committee meeting with the chief, chief of police, and agricultural officer from the government and other elders. Tony gave a speech filled with Dad jokes that didn’t get translated, but they at least made us smile.  The meeting was then open for discussion regarding the projects while Isatou translated.

One thing to note again about Gambia is how important greetings are, and that the concept of African Time is real.  People continued to show up late throughout the meeting and every time someone came late they had to greet each of the important members with their repertoire of greetings.  Another amusing part was that many of the people had cell phones and any time they got a call, the person would get up in the middle of the meeting and walk away to answer their phone.  Needless to say we got a good amount of information from the meeting, but it took some time.

After checking out the rest of the garden we headed back to the compound to check the water tank.  So far during our stay we had been struggling to determine why the taps in the community weren’t working.  Each day we visited the solar powered pump and tank, and each day the tank would say it was full, even though he taps weren’t working.  We were worried there was a leak in the system so we kept checking.  We returned to the tank to see that there was an overflow pipe hidden under a rock that was gushing water.  We soon realized that this must happen often enough because down from where the pipe was, there were some plants growing and the kids who had just been let out of school were playing in the water and drinking it.  Confused and frustrated we went to a leader in the community and found out that the man in charge of opening and closing the pathway from the tank to the taps was gone for a few days and that is why there had been no water.  His second came with us to show us how he could open the flow of water with a simple wrench, one of two in the community.

“How many engineers does it take to provide water to a community?  The answer is none, it’s a wrench.”

Later that day, the man in charge of turning the flow on and off returned to the community so we had a chance to interview him and learn about the system.  This conversation brought up an issue of charity work around the world, which is the lack of focus on sustainability.  The company that installed the system didn’t train anyone on how to maintain it or how it worked.  When one of the parts broke it took the company a month to get out to the system and once it was fixed,  they left without telling anyone what they did.  The community was given a 5 year warranty and it was nearing the end of that time so if the system broke after that the community members would have to figure out how to fix it themselves.  It was crazy to see this problem in action, but it is a common issue.  We were able to learn about the system and glean an idea of places to potentially improve it.

Once this meeting was over, we headed back to the compound to relax.  The volunteers and the team all hung out and drank Gambian tea, which had grown on me, and played games.  We played a version of Simon Says where you jump in and out of a circle.  Sitting on mats in the shade we also broke out cards and played rounds of crazy eights.  I also got to try jacks, but using rocks.  I was not good at it.  It was a great time to all relax and just hang out with the volunteers.

After games I asked to help the women make dinner and they graciously let me join them.  My toma, or namesake, was the head chief and so she showed me how to make the dishes and I got to help chop vegetables.  I felt terrible because we only had one light and everyone kept handing it to me because they were afraid I would cut my hands.  I sat on a stone with the women around the fire and we talked about family and I got to tell them about my family at home. It was a great opportunity and that night I got to carry dinner back to the group.  We stayed up late eating and talking.

Memory of the Day: Jared spearing a cockroach that wouldn’t leave the bathroom.

Picture of the Day: Village Development Committee in full swing.

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May 12th

At this point in our trip it became clear that we were still all adjusting. Adjusting to the heat, food, and pace, so we took our time trying to relax more and slow down.  The phrase “Seeda, seeda” was used a lot.  It means “Slowly, slowly” and we came to appreciate it, especially while walking.

We started off early again today in order to beat the heat.  Tony, Christine, Gaj, and I finished walking the rest of the tap system in the community, taking pictures and GPS points as we went.  After our walk we made our way back to the solar pump and tank to see if we could find the time when it came on.  We decided to try and clean the solar panels.  They were covered in dirt and dust and all we could do was toss water on them and try to clean them with dirty rags.  We resolved to bring a squeegee next time.  We waited until 9:00 am, but when the pump didn’t come on we headed back to the compound for food.

Drinking tea we continued to relax while sitting in the shade.  Modou and the other volunteers found out that Amy had just graduated and so Modou and the women prepared goat for a snack that we would eat later that day in celebration.  Goats are fantastic, they turn cardboard and mango peals into great tasting meat.

In the afternoon we walked over to the garden to a shaded area with a breeze to take naps.  Everyone needed to catch up on sleep, but it was too hot to take naps in the houses.  I fell asleep under some trees and woke up later to drink more tea and eat the goat prepared for us.  We stayed in the garden to eat lunch, spicy fish with rice.

After lunch, Christine, Jared, and I walked down to the little water left in the reservoir to get a sample to take back to the compound and test.  Christine rightly called it “skanky water”.  With our plastic bag filled with water we headed back to the compound.

At the compound we continued to rest eating mango, drinking water, and playing cards.  Tony and I headed out at 6 with Roka to get four more household surveys.  At one of the compounds, there was a mango tree growing in the middle and the women cut down some mangos for us to take back.  I proceeded to hold them while writing answers to questions.  It was already dark when we headed back to the compound.

This is the part when we realized we were being dumb.  Jared had been staying with Modou in a different house and had been taking a bucket shower every night like a smart person.  The rest of us just assumed we wouldn’t be able to shower while in the community and had yet to have any form of a shower other than baby wipes.  Our group was ecstatic to discover we could and should be taking bucket showers so we grabbed enough water for most of the group to get clean.   Bucket showers are fantastic.

That night with everyone clean, the volunteers gave the girls in the group homemade henna.  They used medical tape to make patterns on our feet and then covered our feet in this paste made from sorrel.  We stayed up late talking with the women while they decorated our feet.  Emily showed them pictures of home and we talked about family, home, and even contacts.  Emily took hers out to show the women.  Around 11:30 pm with our feet all squishy and tucked in socks we went to bed.

Memory of the Day: Goat snack before lunch, although the goat could have been a whole meal.

Picture of the Day:

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Henna night with the girls. There is still some on my feet in November.

May 13th – 14th

Throughout the trip so far, each person on our team had struggled at some point or another with the climate, or food, or lack of sleep.  The 13th was a culmination of these adjustments and unfortunately a team member grew sick.  Thanks to the help of Isatou and the volunteers our team member would make a full recovery before we left Gambia, but it was a scary experience.

We decided the 13th was going to be a full day of relaxing after we checked the tank and got two more surveys.  With our official work done for the day before 11:00 am we sat outside in the shade playing cards, drinking tea, and listening to music.  The women made us beaded bracelets and some of us even joined in making our own.  Spending time with the volunteers was my favorite part.  Just relaxing and engaging in conversation with no distractions or places we had to be.

After midday we notice that one of our group members wasn’t doing well, so we decided to go to the clinic in the community.  Mariama, my toma, took us there and helped us get situated.  The doctor tested our team member and determined they didn’t have malaria, but rather lack of glucose.

We were put in a room, where the doctor set up a glucose IV and we sat talking with our team member while trying to get them food and water.  We stayed at the clinic for over four hours.  Isatou helped Gaj and I contact international SOS when our team member wasn’t getting better.  The volunteers sat up with our ill member and fanned them, talked with them, and tried to feed them.  The woman continued to care for our member until we decided that we need to leave the community early the next day to get to the capital.

The only issue was that the 14th was national cleaning day which meant that the roads and ferries would be shut down starting at 9:00 am until that evening.  It is a day where the people of Gambia go out to clean the roads.  Due to this time constraint we would leave the community at 4:00 am in order to make it back in time before the roads shut down.

Back at the compound we started packing up while keeping an eye on our member making sure they tried to get some sleep and food before we left.  We stayed up most of the night talking and saying goodbye to the community members, knowing we would only get to see a few of them before we left for the states.

4:00 am we pulled out of the community saying goodbye to the friends we made.  Driving in our packed van, we made our way back to the capital.  We ended up missing the ferry and feared we would get stuck on the wrong side of the river.  By some miracle, while we waited for the ferry to return, we were told national cleaning day had been cancelled.  Overjoyed, we knew we would get to the lodge and get our ill member to a better clinic.  The ferry came and we headed across the river.

Once we crossed, we split up.  Isatou, Gaj, the sick member, and I all got into a taxi to head to Afri-med while Modou, Awa, and Mariama, took the rest of our team to the lodge we were staying in.  At Afri-med our member was tested again and luckily there was no sign of malaria, only a need for glucose, rest, and water.  We got a private room and contacted international SOS who cleared the hospital to do whatever they needed.  With our team member in good hands we started to relax.  Gaj and Isatou headed back to check on the rest of the team, while I stayed in the hospital.  A few great things about this hospital were: air conditioning, overhead fans, electricity, TV, candy, and a male nurse who wore pink crocs.  The team member and I both ate and got some well needed rest before Gaj returned to stay the night in the hospital.

Back at the lodge our team got situated and prepared a great dinner of pasta and pb and j.  We then went to bed.

Memory of the 13th: Gigantic rat that we might have eaten.

Picture of the 13th: Said Rat.

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Memory of the 14th: A newfound appreciations for air conditioning and Reese’s Cups.

Picture of the 14th:  The view of the courtyard of the lodge we were staying in.Picture8

 

May 15th

Today was our first full day back in the city.  We all noticed the difference in temperature and I even shivered at some parts during the night, even though it was around 80.  Our ill team member would spend this day in the hospital making a full recovery under the care of the doctors.  After breakfast, we picked up Gaj from the hospital and visited with our team member.

Our day was spent mostly shopping at the outdoor market in Serekunda, where we bought souvenirs and gifts from the different stalls.  Most of the people in the market thought we were Peace Corp, but we explained our project to them when we had time.  After we made our purchases and looked around, we headed to a restaurant for lunch.

We had traditional Gambian dishes and tried some of their soda called Vimto.  It tasted like liquid jolly ranchers.  The table was placed outside next to a bakery and so every few minutes the smell of fresh bread would waft over the table, making our mouths water.

The rest of the day we spent relaxing.  Modou took us to a spot on the beach where we just sat and talked.  In the afternoon we headed back to the lodge and dropped Gaj back off at the hospital.

That night Awa and Mariama came by and dropped off two different types of juices for us and then stayed to play cards.  The one was a sorrel juice and the other was baobab that tasted like a banana and walnut smoothie.  We said goodnight to them and walked to a restaurant called the Blue Kitchen.  It was run by German missionaries who sent the profits to support a clinic.  We sat outside under trees and lights eating a mixture of American, German, and Gambian food.  After dinner we headed back to the lodge where we continued to play cards and then headed to bed.

Memory of the Day: Modou’s friend who was supposed to be a DJ but instead hit “play all” and spent time talking with us.

Picture of the Day: Walking around the city.

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May 16th

Today was the day our ill team member was released from the clinic and got to spend the day with us back at the lodge.  They were fully cleared for malaria or any other disease and were told to rest and relax.  We were all glad to see them better and spent most of the day just resting.

There were two important tasks we needed to complete this day, which were to gather information about the materials available for purchase and to meet with a borehole company.  Jared, Modou, and I got in a taxi that morning and traveled to a building materials district where store after store had building materials available.

Modou knew the owner of one of the stores so we went there and we were able to ask about the different parts we would need to rent or buy and how much each thing would cost.  While in the shop, Jared and I were given chairs to sit in and someone returned with fizzy orange soda drinks for the two of us and Modou.  We were able to get the information we needed and when we finished we headed back in the taxi to the lodge.

Later in the day, Tony, Christine, Gaj, and Modou went to meet with a borehole company.  It was the same company that had installed the two systems in Njau, both the government irrigation system and the tap system we had been looking at.  They were able to provide us with a map of the tap lines and a bunch of other useful information.  They look to be a great company to partner with in the future stages of our project.

We relaxed for the rest of the day trying to get some paperwork done until dinner that night.  Emily had a friend from high school who was working in the peace corp so we went to meet her and her friend for dinner.  We ate at a restaurant above the beach and because of the breeze we were all cold.  Modou even wore a scarf on his head because he started to get cold. We chatted about Ohio State and home and even things like how Matlab is so much better than Excel.  After an excellent dinner and a great conversation with the peace corp workers, we headed back to the lodge to play cards and then headed to bed.

Memory of the Day: There were too many people in the taxi so I had to lay across the people sitting in the back to fit everyone.  In the other car they shared the passenger seat.

Picture of the Day: Trying to get work done on our EWB assessment documents.

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May 17th

This was our last full day in Gambia.  We decided to head to the beach in the morning to get some work done on our EWB assessment documents while stuff was still fresh in our minds.  We headed back to the same beach from earlier and grabbed a table to set up shop.  We split up the work for the documents, discussed important lessons we took from our trip, and recommended things we would want to tell future teams.  For example, items such as what type of Cliff bars we recommended,  to things that should be accomplished on future trips.

After eating lunch we took a break because we only had one computer and the Wi-Fi was pretty slow.  In the afternoon we packed up from the beach and headed back to the lodge to meet with Isatou.

At the lodge, we played cards and continued to work on the paperwork.  We also talked to Wasa on the phone.  He was one of the volunteers for WIG in the village and he had called us every day since we had left.

That night Mariama, Awa, and Isatou came to visit.  We spoke with Isatou about what we gathered from the trip and what we thought the best project would be.  Before and after our discussion we played some cards and caught up with Mariama and Awa.  We said goodbye to the group and got in taxis to head to dinner.

Luckily, enough of us liked Chinese food that we decided to head to a place in the touristy district for Chinese.  We sat at dinner talking about zombie apocalypses, EMPs, and life plans.  It was great to talk with the group about the trip and life, once again with no distractions.  We laughed at the fact that we had started and ended our trip with Chinese food.

That night, Modou made Gambian tea for us again with the teapot I bought from the market.  We talked some more and relaxed, packing up some of our stuff for the next day.

Memory of the Day:  Tony asking Gaj what makes the world go round, expecting “Fat Bottom Girls”.  Gaj replied with the large iron core.

Picture of the Day:  Group dinner at Chinese restaurant in Gambia.

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May 18th

Our last day in Gambia started early for me.  I decided to wake up before the sunrise and try and film it for our video.  Unfortunately, there were too many clouds to see the sunrise clearly, but it was a great time to think about the trip.

We packed up our stuff and cleaned the lodge the best we could while a small group went to check in with the doctors one last time.  When they returned we headed to the market to get final gifts and souvenirs.  With our bags heavier, we drove to WIG headquarters in Serekunda where we had started our trip.  There we got to meet some more of the volunteers we hadn’t met yet and see our friends too.  We relaxed with the women, watching them make food and sat with Modou in his house as he made us more tea.

Before we left for the airport we ate lunch and took pictures with our friends.  It was a great time to sit with them and say goodbye.  When it was time to leave, we packed into a van where Modou lead a game of crazy eights while we headed to the airport.

At the airport we said goodbye to Mariama, Awa, Modou, and the other volunteers.  We called Isatou on the phone to say goodbye because she couldn’t make it to the airport.  Headed through security we sat and waited for our plane.  Once we boarded it was over 30 hours of travel until we landed in Columbus on the 19th.

For me, this trip was an incredible experience, and no matter how many times I try to explain it or write about it, it won’t ever do it justice.  Not only did I have an opportunity to travel to Gambia with some fantastic people, but I met people in Gambia that inspire me every day and I want to see them again.  If there were lessons I learned in Gambia it would be that life doesn’t need to be so fast, take it seeda, seeda.  Take the time to talk with people, because they say some great things if your actually listening.  Finally, there is such a value in true community that I try to spend more of my time just being with people.  This trip was a blessing to me and I cannot wait to return.

Thank you to everyone who donated to make it possible and please stay tuned to learn more about our future trips!

Memory of the Day: Christine sneaking Baobab and sorrel juice through customs.

Picture of the Day:  A group picture at WIG headquarters.

Picture12


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