Pre Departure: This program will provide our students with an opportunity to study for a semester in a developing country, in English, without missing courses in the sequence of courses required for pre-professional and science majors. The program in Gambia will provide a great additional option in a culture completely foreign to our students. The program is being built around the Elizabethtown College motto: “Educate for Service” – centered in a service learning design experience in the Gambia. Many of these projects will be renewable energy projects and all will serve needs in the local community there. The program will establish a long term relationship between Etown and the University of The Gambia and benefit students in a number of disciplines.
Developing a study abroad option in The Gambia would provide our students with an opportunity to study for a semester in a developing country, in English, without missing courses in the sequence of courses required for pre-professional and science majors.
- The program in Gambia would provide a great additional option in a culture completely foreign (clearly much more so than the typical Western European study abroad sites) to our students.
- The program is being built around the Elizabethtown College motto: “Educate for Service.” This motto and the corresponding educational philosophy are a significant part of what drew me to Elizabethtown 9 years ago.
Students will work, live and study side by side with Gambian students. The program proposed at the University of The Gambia (UTG) will serve as a showcase example of how our students (and faculty) can use their academic and professional skills to directly improve the lives of others, in a part of the world desperate for such improvements. The four signature attributes of our institutional vision are strongly reflected in this program. Students in this program will be developing relationships with individuals in a developing country; they will be applying their skills to solve real problems in the local communities, and discovering a foundation for purpose in their life work.
Personally, I am very excited about this opportunity. I truly view it as a chance in a lifetime, which I expect to shape and define the rest of my life. I’ve wanted to put my engineering skills to use in service to others in a developing country for several years. We will have the opportunity to significantly impact the communities we will be working with as a part of this program as we work in teams with Gambian students to address major challenges for these villages.
Through my residency at the university and my work with the students there, we will also foster a long-term relationship between Elizabethtown and UTG (through BCA). A long -term relationship with UTG will significantly enhance the impact of the work we do with the local communities. In far too many cases these type of humanitarian service projects have resulted in little productive change, because of a short sighted vision not integrated with the community.
Students will also benefit directly by adding a truly unique experience to their resume. Not many students in the country have spent a semester studying and working in a developing country. This experience will undoubtedly catch the eye of hiring managers – I can imagine a hiring manager bringing in a candidate in for an interview because they want to hear their story. The National Academy of Engineering supports this claim through the findings of their report on Engineering in the new century (The Engineer of 2020) – the alumni magazine for the University of Michigan reflected beautifully on this report: “Engineers in 2020 must…understand the world and the problems people have living in it…good engineers don’t solve problems in a vacuum…engineering and public service will be faithful partners.”
What better reflection of our belief “that learning is most noble when used to benefit others and affirms the values of peace, non-violence, human dignity and social justice.”
I am also developing a multidisciplinary design course that will fill the need of the required EGR391 course for junior engineering majors and appeal to Gambian students in a variety of disciplines. This course will take a multidisciplinary approach to design that will be accessible to students from any discipline. I believe the engineering methodology to problem solving is an area where engineering programs across the country should be contributing to the general education of students. This is a concept I have been actively engaged in dating back to a National Academy meeting in DC where I was an invited participant a few years ago. The development of this course (essentially reshaping our current junior design course into a more inclusive form) would carry back to Etown.
15 August 2010: What a long strange trip its been... We left home at 6 AM Saturday morning and over 30 hours later we arrived in Banjul at 5 PM local time. We took a roundabout route in coming here but all went well and all our bags arrived with us. Only half were flagged for inspection by customs in Banjul for inspection - which had me a bit worried going into the room off to the side - not knowing what to expect. After 30 hours of travel I was not looking forward to tearing through each bag and trying to repack everything. But the inspection was just to check some strange looking things on the x-ray (pots and pans and such) and went quickly and the customs personnel were very friendly.
Through customs we were met by Ansumana and others from the UTG and we were driven in two vehicles to the Paradise Suites Hotel (www.paradisesuites.gm) where we are staying while preparations are finalized on our house in Brikama. Gumbo Touray UTG's director of International and University Relations met us warmly there. I was able to see the house on Thursday and it is a 1 mile walk from the campus and even closer to the central market area in Brikama and busy crossroads of a village (with over 85,000 residents). There is a large preserved forest just north of the campus (the campus is at 13°17’09”N,16°39’32”W). In the meantime, someone from UTG picks me up each morning to take me to campus. The Internet is available on campus, but slow. We will need to get a cell network Internet connection soon. At the office I am sharing a similar connection with several others. Once we have that we may be able to Skype from home in the evening!
The staff at the hotel is great – very friendly and helpful. Solomon, Douda, Landing and others have all befriended us, giving Mandinka lessons and just chatting. The morning after we arrived 300 children from Senegal departed after a month’s stay at the hotel – it is a quiet time for tourists now in the warm rainy season. Nate and Anna have been able to swim some at the hotel and Friday afternoon we were able to head out to the ocean to a great spot at Leybato Beach House with tables and hammocks among the palms along the beach.
I started work at UTG Monday morning. It looks like they'll have me teach a “Solar Energy Physics” course and a MATLAB course. The Solar Energy course will be a great opportunity – I wanted to learn more about PV systems while on sabbatical and this will give me a great chance to do that while fulfilling my teaching commitment – it will keep me busy as I will be learning along with the students – but it is something I would be studying anyways. On Fridays the UTG (as most other institutions) closes at noon. Kathy Lewis is a retired (just) Mathematics Professor from the SUNY system and she will teaching at UTG as well. She spent a year here a couple of years ago and has come back now that she is retired. Jacques Boillat a CS Professor at Bern University of Applied Sciences is heading out soon after teaching this summer (which he has done for the past 5 years).
21 August 2010: Last Sunday, we were able to attend a small church service (about 50 attendees) not far from the hotel we were staying at, some friends of friends were able to give us a ride back and forth. Skype also worked pretty well Sunday afternoon - we will get a 3G network card for home use soon. Its not so easy to get, they are only had at the main office of QCell, one of the cell phone companies in the Gambia, up in the Serrekunda area (about 30 minutes drive each way - $16-$20 for a round trip cab ride). Its not too far from a great book store, Timbooktoo, so maybe we'll make a day of it sometime next week.
Monday was a public holiday, it was some Christian Saint's day - I confess I had never heard of the particular saint or knew he had a day, but it was observed on Monday and UTG and other public institutions were closed for the day. We celebrated by walking over to the tourist area about 1/2 km from the hotel for pizza. The pizza was good at Paradiso Pizza in the Senegambia area.
Mandinka Aside - Today's lesson: I saama (a general greeting), Somandaa be nyaadii (How's the morning?), A be jang dorang (it is good). Brikama is primarily Mandinka and living in town is giving us lots of opportunities to practice.
Tuesday I met Phillip a UTG graduate in Mathematics and Geography who has completed a MS in Environmental Development. He is very interested in the course and design projects in renewable energy systems – he would like to pursue a PhD looking at renewables in developing countries like The Gambia. I look forward to talking with him more. Change of plans with regard to my teaching assignment – replacing MATLAB course with Classical Mechanics – this should be easier for me in terms of preparations as I have taught this material numerous times. Momodou Jain had an orientation meeting for a Peace Corp worker who will be teaching at UTG. Wednesday I also had a great conversation with a student in Physics and Computer Sceince.
When it rains, it pours...Wednesday was a day with rain of “Biblical proportions” – we’ve had several hard rains, often they had been in the evening or overnight. So far, the idea of a “light rain” does not seem to exist here. Today it was off and on with very heavy rains most of the day – substantial flooding occurred up near the hotel with strong currents running through the streets. Other days when it rains hard for 20 minutes or so it will be sunny again soon after - and still be sunny much of the day.
We made it! We moved in Thursday evening. Thursday was a wild day, but in the end we moved into the house that night (about 6:30 by the time we got back to the house) the power was out , but we made some rice and beans for dinner and camped out in the house.
Friday - The early morning (5:00 AM) call to prayer is heard clearly at the house somehow the kids slept through it, but it is not subtle. The lights had come back on about 1:00 AM - it was nice to get the ceiling fan working. The house is very nice with 4 bedrooms two bathrooms, a small kitchen and a great room (dining and family). There is a covered front porch and a “breezeway” behind the dining area between the kitchen and garage. There are great windows on the east and west sides of the house with nice cross breezes, the north (the sun passes north of us in the summer) and west sides of the house are also nicely shaded from the mango and orange trees (no AC, but so far we are keeping it comfortable). The yard is very spacious (a walled compound) with mango trees, orange (the green West African variety) trees and several banana plants. Keta has been the gatekeeper at the house and we hired him to continue in that position, he is about Nate's height any many refer to him as "the little man". He is very kind and does a great job taking care of the compound. Another woman, Yenaba, is helping us with some cleaning and laundry and is going to help Beth learn to cook traditional West African dishes.
Mid day I walked over to campus (less than a 20 minute walk - and pleasantly free from "bumster" activity). Later in the afternoon we all headed over to the market area (less than 1/2 a mile from the house) and were able to get a few things for dinner and for around the house. The market was a fun time – truly another world. The markets in Brikama’s village center were wild – little shops everywhere. You can just walk through paths through rows and rows of stalls with people, animals and vehicles going every direction.
28 August 2010: Two places I'm guessing you haven't seen a goat. Yesterday I saw a goat sitting up looking around on top of a van driving down the road (1) - it was sitting apparently quite happily in the luggage rack of a local public transport "bus" (a van). Then for the past two mornings while walking to campus I saw the same older man riding his bicycle past me with his goat in an open box on the back of his bike (2). I'm starting to find my way around the campus - Tony (he works with Dr. Jain and has the adjoining office to Dr. Jain's - whose office I am sharing for the year) showed me around a bit more of the campus (see map below).
On Monday Tony declared, “I think the University officially opens today; yes, I think so.” Tony was also able to tell me where to find the "sisters" who sell the eggs. I bought eggs from the convent across the road from UTG Thursday afternoon. We should have some fruit soon from the trees in the compound.
Jainiba (Yeniba) insisted that she bring an iron for my pants to make them look nice. She is much more cheerful – I think she was not feeling well last week. Jainiba went with Beth to the Market and they bought food for two days (Benechin on Monday – it was very good) and a smoked fish and greens "soup" (it wasn't soup) …all was good, except when she laid down on the couch and took an unexpected nap for a while in the afternoon, leaving Beth unsure of what to do. Wednesday, I stopped by the minimarket (Mama’s store), “your friend” (Mama) was sleeping, the girl working in the store told me. Bottles of Youki are D10 if we return the bottles – not normal, Mama was surprised when we brought back the bottles – but doesn't charge us to take the bottles now.
I need to touch base with Dr. Sabally at the Brikama Health clinic near the market – Kathy knows of him (I believe Nicola has worked with him and was very impressed). Nicola is a coordinator for WEC the organization Kathy is working through. Dr Sabally could be a great partner on projects – close by and dedicated.
Friday we were able to get everything we needed for the house at two shops in Serrekunda - it is a joy to have sheets and pillows! We also were able to get a mobile Internet stick – which has been very reliable at the house – so we can get online anytime (as long as the battery holds out on the PC - we've had a lot of power outages this weekend)! You pay monthly rates depending on the amount of data transferred (we’ll see how hard it is to stay within our monthly quota…).
For lunch on Friday we had Pizza and homemade ice cream at a small restaurant in Serrekunda. The pizza was good and the ice cream was wonderful, they had about 8 flavors to choose from D50 (<$2) for two generous scoops.
Saturday the owner of the house stopped by, we had a nice conversation – he has a farm outside Brikama. But we also learned that we can get fresh ground peanut butter just down the street from the house – we had been looking, but now we know it is there. We think we bought peanuts in the area he was talking about – we’ll have to inquire further. He was very interested in photovoltaics - he had tried to install a system for pumping water at his farm, but was not able to get the modules to run the pump.
I get quite a range of reactions as I run along the Trans Gambian Highway (Southbank road) – many look at me like I am completely nuts, many smile and return my limited Mandinka greetings, some clap and cheer, some kids run with me for a short stretch (until mom says they’ve gone far enough…).
The other night I sat with Keeta for a bit outside the gate to the compound – that was a great way to meet some more people in the neighborhood and practice Mandinka – I’ll have to do that more often. One of the neighbors, Binta, joined Beth as she was going to the market and helped her find a number of things (and get much better prices).
5 Sept 2010:
Nate’s 1st blog entry:
We met a lot of people in Gambia. Here are a few of their names: Solomon, Douda and Fanta were at the hotel. Kata is our gardener, Jainiba is our house keeper. The Williamsons are missionaries from the US. Binta helped us around the market.
I don’t like the market. It has mud, flies, and tons and tons of people and a once in a while stench. But I like Youkis; Youkis are fruit flavored sodas.
I am learning Mandinka. I learned abarica means “thank you”, sumalaa means “how is the group”, i bi jay means “fine”, kortanata means “is there no problem”, tanata means “no problems”.
Classes begin at UTG tomorrow. This should get the University started on a schedule that matches fairly closely to the typical US timing. I spent time this past week getting ready for the start of the semester. There was a new student orientation on Wednesday so I had a chance to meet several students. I also had a chance to talk for a bit with Dele – he teaches Chemistry and serves as the librarian for the sciences. Students will go to him for books on the subjects they are studying. Most students are not able to buy their own books and borrow books from the University. For mechanics he said he doesn’t have a particular book he will just give the students what he can find. My students will all be using different textbooks for the course.
My residency card is still being processed – sometime this week I’ll need to get up to Banjul to be fingerprinted to complete the process. These biometric ID cards are new in The Gambia, but should work well. Friday and much of Saturday the access to the internet was extremely limited – it seems the connection out of the country was down for much of that time. We could get online with access to Gambian sites, but could not access our email or other US based networks. Power in Brikama is often shut down particularly in the evening – I’ve been told the power outages are much worse this time of year during the warm rainy season. Speaking of rain – I got soaked three times this week. Coming home from work Wednesday it came down in buckets – my pant legs were drenched and rather muddy by the time I got to the house. Although, Thursday made Wednesday look like a sprinkle – fortunately it really got going while I was at the Convent getting more eggs. I decided to hang out there for a bit… Saturday morning I was seven miles into an 11 mile run and it came down again - the sun was shining and the sky was simultaneously emptying itself on me (great rainbow). Saturday I did earn the respect of a few Gambians, “wow, way to go; now you are home.” Many still look at me like I’m crazy when I am running, others ask “are you training” (or practicing), when I reply ha (yes) the nod and often give me a thumbs up.
Back up to the Serrekunda area on Friday for supermarket groceries (for those things you can’t get at the local market) and books – we spent quite a while browsing at Timbooktoo, a great bookstore. We also enjoyed a relaxing lunch with Garry at The Blue Kitchen. This is a German run restaurant with great food and a wonderful garden. The profits from the restaurant also go to feeding the poor. It was a very enjoyable afternoon.
The local peanut butter (degee) is great; it took some time for Beth to work through the language barrier as to what she was looking for, but it is available in the Brikama market in whatever quantity you want. Our house is starting to feel like a home, we were able to get fabric in the market and with help from “My Sister’s Company” (below) we hemmed them for curtains. Anna has said she will be sad to leave next summer, because she really likes our home here.
Saturday we were able to go out to Pirang, the village the Williamsons work. Denise works with a group doing fair trade work called “My Sister’s Company.” They make hand crafts and preserve foods for sale locally and abroad, at this site they also have a small farm and run a milling machine for projects connected to My Sister’s Company, but also separate revenue generating projects, they also have two guest houses and run a seasonal restaurant “Kayira Doroŋ” (Peace Only in Mandinka). The restaurant is run by a second group of women from the village of Pirang. They also preserve foods for use and sale. Garry and Denise live in a compound in the village of Pirang, far more rustic than our accommodations in Brikama.
Garry came to our house and helped us navigate our first use of a “bush taxi” – a van to small bus running between the villages. The “bus” out to Pirang was a 12 passenger van with about 18 passengers packed in and a load of onions, cooking oil and other supplies on the roof rack. The ride out to Pirang cost us D10 (35¢) each (although Anna was free by riding on Beth’s lap). Coming back we caught a larger van that was less crowded. During the ride, we saw a number of small crowds gathered around doorways – the Scorpions (the national football team) were hosting Namibia in an African Nations Cup 2012 qualifying match (their first). Gambia took down the Brave Warriors 3-1.
12 September 2010: Classes started Monday. I had 3 students in each class, but was told to expect more students next week. Many students did not realize classes were starting and we had heavy rains making travel difficult for many. The students who were in class were great, Musa was in both classes and has a bright smile. Starting this week should set up the calendar nicely for alignment with the schedule at Etown and other US campuses - important for students in the BCA program.
Wednesday morning my computer was dead. It looks like the motherboard went out and repairs are not worth the expense – I will either buy a replacement PC locally and have the SW I need sent (or downloaded) or have IT send over a PC from Etown. Brian Helm Skyped with me and the support line from Dell yesterday - Brian and the ITS support deserve high praise for their help with this. Their support has made a very difficult situation as unstressful as possible. Thank you!
Everything is shut down through Monday for the celebrations connected to the end of Ramadan, Koriteh. Many attended services at the Mosque Friday morning and then planned large family parties in the afternoon and into the night. The neighbor Binta invited us over to her house for the party (made us promise to come in fact). Most thought Koriteh was going to be Thursday, but the Imam announced Wednesday night that Thursday was the last day of Ramadan and the celebrations would be on Friday. We did not know this until we went over to Binta's house in the afternoon Thursday. We had a nice visit with her anyway and promised to return on Friday for the party and feasting – she told Anna she would have domodaa and couscous for her, but expected her to dance.
I went running Friday morning and everyone was out in their beautiful and colorful clothing. Yes in response to the puzzled questions from many Gambians, I am "training" - now at least I have a target I'll try running in the Brufut Distance Run in December - this is a big event the whole country knows about (http://www.brufut-mra.org/2010_marathon_details.htm). Later on Friday, we did make it over to Binta's for domodaa (a peanut based stew) and couscous – it was great (quite spicy). We enjoyed spending the afternoon with Binta and Elijah, Binta's sister's husband and his children. He is a graduate of the program at The Gambia College and taught for a few years at a local school. However, now he works out at the Sheraton Hotel in Brufut. He was delightful to talk with, very thoughtful and well spoken. He works hard and supports much of his family (several brothers, his parents and their families) with his job at the Sheraton. He is also able to send his kids to a private school nearby at the Methodist Mission.
In light of the fiasco with the nut in Florida, it is very refreshing to talk to people in The Gambia. As Momodou Jain (the Associate Dean of Arts and Sciences and Senior Lecturer in Physics at UTG – whom I am working closely and share an office with) says “Here in The Gambia we celebrate all the holidays together, the Christians celebrate with us at the end of Ramadan and the Muslims celebrate with the Christians at Christmas." And we were warmly included in this family's Koriteh celebration; during our conversation we also spoke of the relations between Muslims and Christians in the Gambia. Elijah beautifully spoke of being “humans together first, and in The Gambia, we all have family and friends of both beliefs.” The partying however was subdued on Friday (no dancing, but Anna did impress with her cartwheels) due to the heavy rains Thursday, Friday and much of Saturday the rains were heavy and frequent – it was unusually gray all day.
Kind of a long day today on Saturday. Nate woke us up at 3:00 this morning with a sky high fever and a bad headache. Tylenol took the fever down and we got a little sleep. But the fever came back in the afternoon, so we took him into the clinic in Senegambia. We were all concerned, but everything checked out well: they did several lab tests but no malaria – just a mild infection, along with the cold we all show some symptoms of. Colds are common in the Gambia this time of year. Thanks again to our dear friend Gary Williamson - he came and drove us out to the health clinic in the Senegambia area (by the Paradise Suites Hotel) – AfricMed. We were able to see the doctor early Saturday evening, get the blood work and other lab tests done while we waited, get a prescription filled all within about 90 minutes. For perspective the total bill was about $25; the service was great and very professional.
Saturday evening, everyone else had gone to bed, Beth also had a migraine headache. The rain has ended for now, and the post Ramadan celebrations are going strong as I sat at the table at about 11:00, with the reggae musing playing strongly from a neighboring compound, typing up these notes while following Michigan – Notre Dame on the web...wow what a finish for Michigan! If Robinson can stay healthy and get a little help from some of the other backs, they should have a fun season.
19 Sept 2010: Nate is doing well - back to full health. However, there are a lot of sick people in town. Our neighbor Binta has laryngitis; Jainiba'sson is quite ill; and more - the rainy season leads to a lot of colds and more serious conditions. All the rain we have been having leaves behind pools of standing water and the accompanying mosquitos. The health clinics are busy, but a lot of people cannot afford medications or doctor fees. I want to touch base with the MD at the Brikama Health Clinic (referred to as the Hospital by people in Brikama) - I've been told he is a great person and I'd like to talk to him about our design projects in the spring, but I know he is very busy right now. Dr. Jain also was at GTTI (Gambia Technical Training Institute) this week and brought back a contact for me there for someone who should be able to help us find collaborators to help with fabrication on the projects.
The rains have also caused quite a bit of flooding in many areas including parts of Brikama (http://allafrica.com/stories/201009100237.html). The President visited Brikama and some of the flood sites earlier in the week, and I saw his motorcade heading back out of town as I was walking home from campus. The President has a farm near the University and often spends time there.
This week the school dining hall reopened - it was closed during Ramadan. What a discovery for me. I love it - I can get a great lunch (local foods or the ubiquitous chicken or fish with chips (fries), for a very low cost. I can't pass up a bargain and the food is excellent - plus it gives me a great opportunity to meet and talk with other faculty. Beth and the kids decided to come with me to campus on Friday and join me for lunch. Unfortunately it poured on us on the way to campus, and then they were out of benechin and fish when we went over for lunch. Maybe they'll try again another time.
My classes were good this week. In the first session of each I had 13 students in each class (with 8 students in both classes). I had a couple of others later in the week, but fewer total numbers - I think it will take a week or so before I know who is officially in the courses. The students warmed up quite a bit and started to ask good questions and talk to me after and between classes. Thursday I was in Brikama finalizing my residency card and was delayed getting back to class - I made it back just before class started, but the power was down and I had to shout over the pounding rain - but we actually had a great session. Some of the students talked to me after class - they are really excited about my classes, since many of them would like to study engineering - physics is the closest option available to them in The Gambia. One of the students, Edward, is living with his grandfather in Brikama. he was heading home the same time as Beth, the kids and I on Friday (after the rain ended) and we had a great conversation along the way.
I discovered a store between the house and campus that sells drinks wholesale - good prices by the case (most are bottled in Banjul at the Julbrew (the local beer - although most Gambians do not drink) bottling company). The only problems is that I have to carry the case (24 glass bottles in a plastic crate) home, about 1/4 mile. I brought the first case home on my shoulder and it was still a little sore a few days later -- Saturday I came up with a new plan - loading the bottles into my backpack and carrying the empty crate - much more comfortable! Elijah, Binta's brother-in-law saw me carrying the empty case and came by to see if I needed bottles for exchange - the system works like what I remember as a kid with what was "Town Club Pop" in Grand Rapids. I had to buy the case and bottles for the first case then I can exchange them for a new case next time.
The local football (I still call it soccer most of the time) scene has burst into full swing. I've been told Brikama is a "big football" town and the town games are held at the stadium near our house. The games draw large and enthusiastic crowds (see the photos and video below), with the fans singing, drumming and dancing in the stands and others getting a view from the nearby compound walls and trees. We can see the stands from our house and we know when Brikama scores. The Gambians also follow the European football leagues closely with what I call Gambian "sports bars" (without the "bar") showing games via satellite on TV's for a small fee, in every neighborhood. The place around the corner from our house is pictured below.
Beth has started helping out at Pirang and enjoying her time there. Nate and Anna head out there with her on Wednesdays and Saturdays - taking the delleh delleh vans (bush taxis) from the Brikama "taxi park." We enjoy spending time with Gary and Denise Williamson and hope to get to know some of the local women from My Sister's Company soon. The kids and I have been doing a lot of schoolwork, but most of the local schools still have not begun the fall semester.
25 September: “Toubob, I love you!” - this from a young girl about 7 years old walking along the side of the road as I was running past her. The chant of “toubob toubob” from children is constant everywhere you go, and can be rather tiring; but now I just think of this cute little girl and her kind salutation. The expression toubob is the mandinka word for white person. It is not used in a racist way but the kids tend to be overly excited to see a white person; unfortunately this is often in hopes of a handout of a “mintie,” bottle or pen – or occasionally directly “gimme money?”. Although more often it is just the shouts of “toubob,” and I usually return the greeting with a friendly smile, a wave and a hello. The term is thought to originate from a corruption of a word for “doctor,” but is uncertain (The Rough Guide to The Gambia – a great resource for travel in The Gambia).
It is exciting here – I have a new appreciation for the founders of Etown. The UTG was formed in 1999 just a decade old (founded one century after Elizabethtown College) – being built on the dedication of the faculty and staff with a strong commitment to what the University means to the country. At one decade with limited resources, it is most definitely a University in the making. That said, I find the scope of offerings very impressive (UTG Course Timetable Fall2010.pdf - for those who care, I'm listed as Prof. Kurt). This list does not include courses offered at the Kanifing and Banjul campuses, where the law (business administration) and medical training schools are still housed. Every individual effort can have such a dynamic impact at this stage in the development of this University - it is exciting to see and be a part of. If Kane, a Peace Corps volunteer who is usually found teaching computer science courses at UTG, is successful, the student computer labs will soon have Internet access. They have precious little free access currently and fees at Internet "cafes" are difficult for many.
My students have an incredible range of experience with computer applications. Some have used computers only when they took a computer course at UTG – others have laptops with 3G Internet access. I am having the students work on the same types of problems I give back home and I am teaching them to use Octave (the open source version of Matlab) – they are eager to learn to use such tools, but the reality of only having access in a heavily used classroom with frequent power outages is an issue.
The power situation on campus has been much better recently – it looks like UTG is getting some preferential treatment on the grid. The power has been out at the house much more frequently than at the campus. With regard to the power, one of the instructors in Chemistry, Tony, was telling me that just before we arrived there was a major fire in the central control center for the power grid. Prior to this fire the power had been very reliable – Tony said he hadn't used his generator in 5 years, “if the power went out, I knew it would be back up in 20 minutes or so...since the fire on the other hand...” Hopefully they will be able to rebuild the control center soon – in the meantime they have to do all the switching manually and at home we are without power for several hours every day.
Thursday we all went up to Banjul, to get our passports stamped by immigration through the end of the year – they will have to be reprocessed in December for the remainder of our stay. In typical fashion, this took most of the day – but in the end we were all set through December. There were computers on each desk, but the power cords were not connected to an outlet. The clerk wrote each of our passport numbers and info in a large ledger. My residency card lists my name as Kurt DeGeorge (I guess they saw the all the e's and just went with what it looked like), but that didn't present any problems with the passports so I guess I'm good and have a new alias to boot. Banjul is the national capital located on an island up in the river near the Atlantic. Along the way I was able to take a few photos. I've included more pictures of the public transportation deleh-deleh's loaded with cargo and passengers, and a couple of the landscape.
The primary and secondary schools started up this week as well. The children are all dressed in their colorful (and color coded) uniforms. The colors indicate the school. The local school must be purple, with purple pants or skirts and purple and white checkered shirts. I've also seen brown with tan, a very preppy kelly green with pink, pink with pink checked, to name a few. As I believe is common in Africa the students all take national exams for placement in schools and grade levels. Better scores give access to better schools. All have a fee, but the fees vary greatly.
Beth's family had a rough week. On Thursday her Grandpa Gezon (her mom's dad) passed away. Then on Friday her mom had surgery to remove some cysts from her spine and fuse some vertebrae together. It will hopefully alleviate the terrible pain she's been having, but it is supposed to be a slow recovery. It is hard to be so far away during this time.
3 October 2010: Recently Anna (our 8 year old daughter) told Beth “Everybody should have what they need, before others have what they want.” When asked what people need she included food, house and a computer. A difficult ideal, but a noble one - seeing the real need of some of the neighbours in Brikama has made an impression.
The struggle is to focus on fishing rather than fish. I love this vision from William Kamkwamba in his popular autobiographical account The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, for “creating a new kind of Africa, a place of leaders instead of victims, a home of innovation rather than charity” (2009).
In the spring, I will be teaching an Engineering Design course - in this course the students will be working on a real 'problem' in a local community and work in multidisciplinary/multicultural (BCA and UTG) teams to solve that problem for this community. The challenge for the design team will be to find the intersection of the existing technology for sustainable energy systems and the appropriate technologies for the rural Gambian villages they are working with. Any system designed should be developed with as many local materials and technologies as possible. Low cost will be a key design criteria – the system should be practical for deployment in other villages without substantial fund raising demands. This moves us toward economic sustainability. Further the integration of the local students and faculty as leaders on these projects should allow us to avoid the problems others have observed where solutions to engineering problems did not migrate through the country as expected and desired. There is a great deal of interest on campus among students and faculty in renewable energy. I have over 10 students in the PV system design course I am teaching now - and many of those students plan take the engineering design course in the spring.
When the solutions to these problems of “local and global public good” are developed locally the local population is empowered to solve other problems and sustain any system developed over the expected life of the system. I hope in this way we contribute to creating an Africa of innovation.
It looks like my "soda guy" - Pops is going to be leaving the distributor, the store will keep going of course, but I’ll miss seeing Pops. He runs a juice bar up in the tourist area up in Senegambia. We'll have to look him up when we are up that way - he proudly showed me his Tourism Board ID and instructed me to “just ask for Pops' Juice Bar – its rather famous.” The tourist season is getting started now that the rains are starting to let up. Several long standing puddles in the streets have completely dried up. I knew October had much less rain than September and August – but experiencing the dramatic change was pretty surreal. It almost overnight went from raining almost every day to – “occasionally” – by November it will be about done until next July. Hopefully this is good news for limiting further spread of malaria. We know of several people with malaria - including one of my students at the university.
This past Tuesday I was able to get up to Kairaba Avenue, the Gambian equivalent of that street in town that has all the shops (28th street in Grand Rapids or Union Deposit Ave in Harrisburg). Gary and I had fun running from shop to shop - most called stationary shops or trading companies - selling all kinds of goods. We'd go in and ask to see what laptop PC's they might have meeting the specifications I had from the IT department at Etown. In the end I was able to get a good machine at a fair price from Mono at MP Trading Company. You have to complete most every purchase in The Gambia in cash (Dalasis). With D29 to the dollar and the largest denomination being a D100 note, making even a modest purchase can make you feel a bit like a bootlegger. Mono was great - it turns out he sold the University the fridge and cook top for our house, “professor? – I sold the University several items for a professor’s house they were setting up.”
Back in Brikama I discovered I needed DVD's and CD's for installing the SW I needed for the PC. I was thinking this would be difficult, but I thought I'd try the friendly gentleman (Brewer) who greets me warmly as I pass by each day. Brewer runs "Barak Obama Stationary and Book Shop." He is indeed very friendly and was able to find DVD's for me at a very good price (confirmed by Pa - the director of IT at UTG because I really had no idea). Many Gambians in the area call Brewer “Obama” now as he adopted that name for his shop. He proudly feels a connection to the US. While working at a hotel, Brewer hosted a number of NASA workers. You probably did not know the airport just up the road from UTG was an emergency landing site for the space shuttle missions. The runway was built extra long to accommodate such a landing. The DVD's worked great - and I know where to go next time I need something like that. All three men, Brewer, Mono and Pops were delighted to hear of my work at the university and grateful for the relationships we are trying to build and the expertise we are trying to foster.
9 October 2010: Last week I had photos of a well loaded gelleh-gelleh and semi-truck – this week it looked like moving day as I came past the gas station on the corner (see the car below). We’re talking Beverly Hillbillies heading west kind of loads. It was amazing.
Gatorade is hard to find (although it is available in some of the grocery stores), but I have happily discovered a great homemade recipe (www.cptips.com/hmdesnk.htm - #3 comes recommended by me) made with water, sugar, salt and lemon juice.
The rains have pretty much ended. Some of the side streets now look more like a beach than a road – the mud and puddles have been replaced with loose sand. The rain definitely helped pack the road surface. It is still quite humid so it has been a warm week . Midweek we had a power failure we were not sure of the problem, and since we have regular rolling blackouts we did not realize we were out – out until several hours after we first had a problem. By then it was evening and we waited until the next day to enlist some help from maintenance at the University. The house wiring would not exactly meet IEEE code and made me a bit nervous. It turned out the problem was out at the utility pole and had to be fixed by folks from NAWEC, the public utility company. Musa, from campus was very helpful in getting things done. He knows several of the guys at the utility – I can only imagine how long it might have taken me to get them to check out the utility pole. Other than this issue though the power outages have been getting noticeably better (more time on and less off) – and usually if it is shut off we can count on it coming back on within 8 hours.
Not far from here, through much of the country, villages have no connection to the public utilities. And even here, where we do have the public utility available, many cannot afford the rates. Not to mention the outages. The situation is ripe for the photovoltaic systems we are studying in my Solar Energy course. We will likely be designing PV systems next semester as well; for actual use in the community. We are planning to work with health clinics to design a low cost PV system that will meet their power needs and be reliable over the life of the PV panels (over 20 years). Many village clinics – which serve as the first point of treatment for most individuals – have PV modules installed. However when we visited in January, many of those systems were not functional. The students’ task will be to meet with individuals at the clinics to determine the needs they have, work within a sustainable budget and develop a system to meet those needs. Many times the systems fail and funds are not available to replace a failed component. This is certainly part of the challenge the students will face when working on these projects. However, a solution to this problem could have a substantial impact - if it can be done within a budget that can be met by other villages. If large amounts of external funds need to be raised for each installation, it will not propagate to other villages and any failed component will likely mean the system will be unusable until new funds are again raised – this would not solve the problem at hand.
My classes are going well now. The students and I have found our way through the cultural divide and are doing very well – we are making great progress in both courses. I met with two of my students in Classical Mechanics yesterday for 2.5 hours and they really started to catch on. Many students were working today (Saturday) in the lab (coming at the end of Mechanics) on the Solar Energy problems. One of those students was the student I mentioned previously - he had malaria – he is back to full health. If you can get tested and get the medication, you recover very quickly. Unfortunately, in some cases the virus is becoming resistant to the medications commonly used, and no new drugs for the treatment of malaria have been developed since 1992. I give the Bill and Melinda Gate’s Foundation great credit for supporting this cause that slips under the radar in the US and Europe. Fortunately here in The Gambia most treatments are still working effectively the issue is for the majority of the population to be able to afford treatment. Plus, with the rainy season ending here things should get better for all.
Tomorrow after church we will try to find our way out to the beach - sunny days are indeed here...
16 October 2010: Sanyang Beach, The Gambia – called Paradise Beach. We made it out to the ocean last Sunday – actually it was not difficult at all. We arranged transportation from the taxi stand in Brikama – negotiating a round trip fare out to Sanyang Beach (about 10 miles). The driver was willing to wait for us there. The beach was beautiful (see a few photos below).
The driver didn’t seem to know exactly what he was getting into, but it worked out well. You see, the paved road ends at Sanyang – this is still a ways from the coast. Here I should say we were very glad we did not try to take a gelleh-gelleh. They stop here at the end of the paved road – and it would have been a bit of a walk to find the ocean. Anyway, we continued on past Sanyang and the dirt road was pretty good. We came to a “Y” in the road and the driver paused for a bit before taking the left fork, a bit up this road we could see the beach, but the road was severely rutted (washed out from the rains). A young man was working on the road, and as we passed the driver spoke briefly with him in Mandinka while passing him some cash (I haven’t learned enough Mandinka to follow what was said – but it doesn’t take much of a leap to guess it was something like “where do I take these toubobs?”. We turned around and the driver proceeded from there with a bit more confidence – backtracking to a particular side road marked which made the previous washed out road look pristine – but the road man’s advice was sound as we did find our way out to a great little place called the Black and White Beach Bar and Restaurant.
The Black and White did not have food, as they were just starting to prepare for the tourist season, but did have a fabulous setting which we enjoyed for a couple of hours before heading back to Brikama. Mama – the woman running the restaurant – did bring a cook out to start making some benechin (a great West African dish with smoked fish), but we needed to head back before it was going to be ready although it was starting to smell wonderful. Our feelings of guilt at having to leave before this food was prepared was eased as a group of tourists passed us as we were heading out asking if there was any life at the end of the road – they were pleased to hear of the benechin. We’ll also be back for the food and more time on the beach. The water was comfortably warm and the beach empty – we could see the fishing center in the distance to the left and empty coast line as far as we could see to the right (out to a point in the distance).
The kids have been studying habitats as part of their school work. One of their projects will be to monitor the habitat in our compound – Anna made a great initial illustration of the habitat and listed the plants, trees, birds, insects and animals she found (see below). They both love working on their mathematics and Anna really likes learning cursive (Nate is not so fond of handwriting). They have both read a collection of Gambian folk tales – more than a few of these were a bit strange, although I guess that is true of a lot of American folk tales as well. They have both read a number of other books that they have enjoyed – and love looking for new books at Timbooktoo. They are currently struggling a bit with Treasure Island. In science they have studied weather and are now working on anatomy. Daily life includes many studies in Social Sciences. The other day they were role playing with Lego action figures: the Star Wars characters were negotiating “bush taxi” fares to various parts of the galaxy.
All except Anna have discovered a new favorite soda – Malta, it is bottled locally at the Banjul Brewing Company that also bottles Coke products and the previously described Youki’s (still Anna’s favorite). Although most Gambians do not drink alcoholic beverages the brewing company does brew a good local beer JulBrew and they bottle Guinness – a surprising but pleasant discovery. The products bottled locally are of course far less expensive than imported fare. Malta is a “Free of alcohol Energy Drink” with "Nourishing Vitamins" brewed from malted barley and hops – I think it is best described as a creamy sweet (molasses) drink that tastes a bit like malt-o-meal (although Nate thinks I’m nuts when I compare it to “oatmeal”).
23 October 2010: Welcome to 'Student Week.' I'm not sure exactly what this is, but classes were cancelled Wednesday through Sunday, so I just had one session of my Solar Energy course on Monday. This course is really getting fun now that we are to the point of designing a full system. The students have been thirsting for the practical "here's how we design a PV system." UTG does not offer an Engineering curriculum, but students have told me that they all want to be engineers - Physics is the closest curriculum they have available. Many of the students are inspiring to me - Ebrima was last in college 10 years ago. He has been teaching Mathematics and Science at a school in 'the provinces' on the remote North Bank of the river up river from the coast. He is working hard to learn to use computer tools he has never had access to. I've introduced Octave (an open source program similar to MATLAB) to the campus and we are using this tool in both courses Ebrima is taking from me. Another student just purchased his first PC a little netbook and he is trying to get SW loaded (Octave and Open Office to start), while desperately trying to avoid viruses - not easy for most around here since most computers are not protected and managing with very limited access to slow internet networks. I now provide my classes with one hard copy of my class materials at class time. The price for photocopies is just D1 each while printing is D5 a page. I'm learning. For me to print this I need to bring a USB drive to Tony's PC (mentioned below Tony teaches Chemistry and works out of the office adjoining the one I am sharing with Dr. Jain) - as in the case of my student - watch for viruses!
With the classes cancelled for much of the week, I was able to do a few other things. Tuesday I went with Momodou Jain (by gelleh-gelleh) up to GTTI to connect with one of the faculty members there (Ebrima Njie), who may be a great collaborator on our projects in the spring. GTTI is soon to be under the management of the University although it is a far older institution. It's primary mission has been to train in vocational skills such as automechanics and welding. That is evolving under the coming merger, with an eye to collaborative engineering programs. Mr. Njie has an electrical engineering background and was very astute in his assessment of the current situation concerning PV systems in The Gambia. Of course initial costs is a major concern, but also there is a perception that PV systems do not work. The population is skeptical of PV systems because of the number of observed failed installations - often installed by business men early on who did not have the background to service the systems.
All of the sudden we've seen trees being cut down all over the place. Men climb all through the trees hacking away with machetes. This is being done to harvest firewood, but speaks to the need to develop a renewable fast growing bio-fuel.
Thursday Beth, the kids and I all headed back up to Westfield by gelleh-gelleh to stop in at Timbooktoo and have pizza and ice cream at the kids favorite restaurant - the Parisian (across from the US Embassy). The guys running the gelleh-gellehs are fun to watch. The driver and the door man work in close concert with the doorman banging on the side of the van in signal calling out to pedestrians the destination they are heading toward "Westfield-Westfield." The door man works hard, assisting with parcels and hopping on an off the moving vehicle. Nate and Anna are awed by many of these performances. We had a great day together. Anna read The Mysterious Benedict Society in less than 24 hours (all 475 or so pages). Together, we have started reading Benny and Omar a book by Nate's new favorite author (Eoin Colfer). The book was written a decade before his more famous Artemis Fowl books, but is about a boy who has to move from Ireland to Africa with his family. We've only read the first bit, but I enjoyed the description of their arrival in Tunisia including "Benny looked around at the people...Now Benny was no eejit, he wasn't expecting the Tunisian nationals to be Irish. What he did expect was darkish people with Irishy personalities. That was not what he got...They stubbornly insisted on being themselves."
30 October 2010. Wow, it is almost November. Today should have been a National Clean-up Day – when all roads are closed from 9 AM to 1 PM so people can clean up around home. Can you imagine all roads being closed – no traffic permitted – throughout the entire US for a 4 hour period each month. The quiet felt rather eerie, as there is usually a constant stream of traffic on the main roads. They do this on the last Saturday of every month. In September, I thought at first that people would be cleaning up public spaces. There tends to be a lot of litter along roads and walls etc., but much of the cleaning is within family compounds – sort of a monthly spring-cleaning. I did see a large group working at the Mosque. However, this month there is a CDC/UNICEF global Polio vaccination campaign going on and the roads remained open. We were visiting with Jainiba Friday evening and she told us she thought “it might not be cleaning day tomorrow.” It was announced Friday night that indeed the clean up day will be next Saturday.
“It might...” things run a bit more loosely scheduled than in the States. I asked when the end of the semester will be: “I think it will be before Christmas – we're working on the exam schedule now.” I am learning to go with the flow.
On my way back home this afternoon, I did see a posting showing a semester schedule for this fall and the spring with the current semester lectures ending on Dec 4, and a week for “missed lectures” before exams are held on the 13th through the 23rd. The spring semester registration period will then begin on the 17th of January, with classes running through the 7th of May – again followed by the “missed lecture” week and exams running through the end of May. “It might...turn out close to this schedule.”
It stormed again Thursday night – a terrific thunderstorm. A gentleman in the market said he has never known it to rain after 15 October. It has been an unusual year for rain (with a much higher rainfall in September than typical). We've been told we'll wake up some morning in November and think “what a beautiful day,” and that will just continue then, day after day, on until late March or early April when it will start heating back up.
There are also rumors of some significant repairs to the power grid coming in mid November that should dramatically improve the power situation. We feel directly responsible for that improvement as we have now gotten the generator at the house fully operational. In the process I did discover what looks like an old barbecue grill in the shed – I'll be seeing if I can get that up and running.
Someday, I'll be able to walk and run again without noticing my ankles. It just seems like they are perpetually stiff. Not painful, just stiff. The constant running and walking on the irregular pavement along the shoulder of the road had taken its toll. I'm still planning to run in the one organized road race in the Gambia – the Brufut Marathon (it is not actually a marathon, but rather about a 15 km course). Dr. Jain said he will train to run the race with me, I'm working on others. It will be held on 18 December, and I have seen a few Gambians running along the road when I've been out lately.
My favorite part of many runs is a group of school children in their dark green school uniforms that run with me whenever we meet up. I pass them on most of my runs and this group of about 12 young students (primary school aged) run along with me for as far as 1/2 a mile. They start running as they see me approaching and just run along with me smiling. One boy was running right next to me as I was getting ready to do a fast interval and I asked him if he was ready to go fast, he smiled and nodded matching me stride for stride running hard for about 1/8 a mile before he fell away laughing. Looking at past results from the Brufut race the man who usually wins is a fast Gambian indeed. His winning time in 2009 was listed as 42 minutes (so I assume that is at least under 43 minutes) for 15 km. This is a world class pace, the world record is 41:29; so somewhere there are some speedy runners cruizing around – but in Brikama most Gambians still look at me like I'm nuts (although now that I'm a familiar sight, a serial nut). Yet, one older lady goes a bit crazy when she sees me - like I am a long lost friend with lots of excited Mandinka and smiles, and some others clap and say things like "run fast, run fast" or "good job - strong."
I continue to be impressed with Dr. Jain and others at the University who are so committed to the mission here. The challenge of getting UTG where they want it is daunting. Their resources are sparse and there is no capacity in the population to increase tuition. They do so much with so little. If you expect to have whatever you need when you need it, coming to work or study here would certainly not be for you. The ethos here is all about making the best out of what they have – something that resonates deeply with my personal makeup. While we will need to raise some funds for a basic set of equipment for PV systems engineering, I want to focus on low cost, locally-sustainable projects that will build on this spirit of building something great out of limited resources. I go back to the book The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, it tells a story born out of this same spirit. It is a spirit worth fostering: a spirit of innovation.
Now, the Chicken Saga, from Beth:
On Wednesday morning Jainiba showed up with a live chicken in her hand and said it was for Kayta. He was out harvesting peanuts at the time, so she just left it in the compound. The kids went out and discovered that not only was there a chicken, but 9 very little chicks as well! They were ecstatic, but warned that they were not pets. When Kayta returned, Anna quickly grabbed his hand and showed him where the chickens were. I told him they were from Jainiba and attempted to ask him what he was going to do with them. He said something in Mandinka (of course) and pointed away. The kids enjoyed watching them make a mess of the yard all day Wednesday and most of the day Thursday. But Thursday afternoon some children came and took the chickens away. About 9:00pm Jainiba came to the compound fuming - asking where her chickens were. She said I needed to come with her. I went out assuming we were going to talk to Kayta, but we ended up at the neighbor's compound. There was a large group of people there and a man who spoke good English asked me what I had to do with this. I explained what I knew and he told me I could go, but Jainiba did not think so and brought me to another group of people in the compound. They did not speak English and began yelling in Mandinka. Eventually the other man came and repeated that I didn't need to stay, and I quickly left. When I got back home, Kayta was sitting outside the gate and simply said "no good." I agreed.
The next morning Jainiba was still fuming when she came to clean and told me she was going to call the police if Kayta did not return her chickens. I asked her why she left them here in the first place and it was because she had to go to Banjul for 2 days and she didn't want anything to happen to them (our compound has a nice brick wall, hers has a patched sheet metal wall). She did not tell me this when she dropped them off! Well, anyway, I'm guessing she got them back because she visited with us again in the evening and was no longer angry. On a lighter note, I bought peanut butter today in a 5 liter tub, (they make it locally just down the street) it should last a while!
6 Nov 2010: OK, I'm officially eating a whole lot of tiyoo (peanuts or groundnuts). Last week we told you of our 10 lb tub of peanut butter (“You spread it on bread? - It's for 'soup'”). Over the past 10 days or so, Keta had been going to his family compound most mornings to harvest tiyoo. A couple of days ago he did announce that he was now “tiyoo - finished” (arms waving in a baseball safe sign). Keta has been bringing us a bundle of harvested nuts each day. They are actually tasty raw, but we do like them better roasted. We roasted some in the oven and Jainiba also roasted many of them for us over a charcoal fire. I also buy them from one of the ladies that set up shop on campus, selling nuts and other snacks to students and staff. The one lady has very good tiyoo (others don't roast them enough for my taste). She then also piles extra nuts into the paper for me, I assume to keep me as a regular customer. They take a sheet of paper and form a cone then scoop in a can of nuts (D5 for the big can, less for a smaller can) You wondered where those textbooks collected for Africa ended up? - I've received my Tiyoo wrapped in a page from an academic journal or textbook on more than one occasion. I'm sure many go to better use...
On campus the Science Club was selling lunch as a fundraiser for projects. I enjoyed a plate of ñamboo and sosoo (cassava – a tropical tuber – and beans). It was very spicy with a red pepper chili sauce over the top. Jainiba helped Beth make something similar today.
“Give me a Fula minute” - Momodou Jain. I am sharing an office with the very busy Dr. Jain. He used this expression earlier in the week when a student was asking for him. He explained that a Fula minute was an indeterminate amount of time (probably a “bit” longer than an actual minute). Fula is one of the tribal groups of The Gambia. Mandinka is the largest in The Gambia, but there are a number of Wolof, and Jola along with Fula. The Fula minute may be a derivative of GMT (Gambian Maybe Time, aka Greenwich Mean Time) the local time zone. With the shift off daylight savings in the US, we will now be 5 hours ahead of EST.
I am working with Dr. Jain to develop a renewable energy engineering curriculum, to be developed out of their current program in Physics. This is an exciting project and would be a great way to combine two goals of UTG: an engineering program and a program in renewable energy. In both cases, developing the capacity of the population would be a great benefit to The Gambia. I am optimistic we will get this off the ground soon.
I had a not so gentle reminder to stay alert while traveling alongside the road the other day. I was walking along the shoulder of the road and suddenly a bike split the two women walking in front of me. I side-stepped left and the bike swerved the same way, closing on me fast. I knew I did not want to bail out diving to the ground, so I just stuck out my hand and caught the handlebars of the bike - stopping them (the cyclist and his luggage rack passenger) in their tracks. I think I probably had some help from the cyclists brakes. No damage done, all of us rather startled. Taxis and the gelleh-gelleh's swerve on and off the shoulder without much of a look, and I don't think I could manage the same stopping a speeding train trick with one of them. Note to self: stay sharp.
13 November 2010: What a week; it started relaxing enough. Sunday after church we just took it easy at home. We enjoyed a beautiful day sitting under the shade of the mango and orange trees in our compound reading (and maybe dozing a bit too). Then the test (not an exam - the term exam is reserved for the 50% of your grade final exam) in Solar Physics Monday – yikes; as the students admitted the next day, they were not ready for that one. They will be for the next go after Tabaski. Tabaski is a festival of sacrifice commemorating the story of Abraham's willingness to sacrifice Ishmael (same story different son). If you know the story, you know God stopped Abraham and provided a ram as an alternate sacrifice. But Abraham's submission to God's will was clear. Everyone in town is looking for means to obtain their ram (not a good week to be a male sheep). Prices are a little higher and people are rather stressed. This also leads to some interesting giveaway promotions. Both the cell phone company Africell and Total gasoline are giving away Tabaski Rams: “Tabaski Salibo!!! Scratch and Collection (sic) the five letters of the word T.O.T.A.L to win instantly.” My students also joked that the exam in Solar Physics was my Tabaski Salibo (gift) to them.
I do also want to say that the students are great young men and women. They are just plain nice, and fun to work with. The science club was selling lunch last week to raise some funds. This week they were working on a project to piece together parts from a wireless doorbell system, an old cell phone and other assorted parts to build a wireless signaling system for football officials. A GTTI student was working with them and they were clearly having a great time and learning all kinds of practical electronics along the way.
I finally met up with Bill Roberts. Bill is an anthropology professor from Saint Mary's College in Maryland, who is also teaching at UTG this fall and has been bringing SMCM students to The Gambia through their PEACE program since 1993. It was great to talk to Bill and get a taste of his perspective on The Gambia (he first came to The Gambia in 1979 as a Peace Corps Volunteer). I also reconnected with Yusupha Touray. Yusupha organized a good portion of our trip last January and will be helping me get reacquainted with the staff at one or more of the health clinics with failed PV systems. Designing a more sustainable system will likely be the design project for the Engineering Design course I will be teaching in the spring semester. Yusupha is a very good man and we enjoyed our time with him in January. On Tuesday we will be joining his family celebration for Tabaski. We look forward to meeting the rest of his family (more on that next week).
Tuesday evening we were suddenly enjoying live kora music while sitting in the house after the kids were in bed. The music was obviously a live performance and we recognized the performer as Dembo Konte. He is from Brikama and often performs locally, but has also toured in Europe and North America (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dembo_Konte_and_Kausu_Kuyateh). We had bought one of his CD's last January, and as our only recording of kora music his voice and style were immediately recognizable. Jainiba told us the next day that the music was from a naming ceremony for “several children and mothers, but one father. He is very prominent and they killed two cows for the celebration.”
We had heard reports that the power situation should be improving and it does seem that it has. Although I was Skyping in the dark Thursday night with the Occupational Therapy and Physics students working with Dan Panchik (A professor in the OT department at Etown) and I on our collaborative projects, we have not had many outages over the last few weeks. It is now just one or two times a week it has been out for 6-8 hours at a time - a far cry from the 8 hours on 8 hours off we were seeing.
20 November 2010: So this week was Tabaski. No classes Saturday (13th) through Wednesday officially. My students came last Saturday – so we had a class session then, but less than ½ of the students were present for this past Thursday, as well as today. Most folks travel home for Tabaski and some of the students live far up in the provinces (up river – unpaved roads) and it can take a long time to travel back and forth. Also in the provinces the prayers for Tabaski were determined to be on Wednesday, as opposed to Tuesday here. With family celebrations occurring the day after the prayer time, Thursday was definitely a wash at the University. Anna's Tabaski reflection:
Tabaski is a holiday when some people sacrifice a ram or a cow because God asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, but then God provided a ram to kill instead. For Tabaski our family went to Gunjur and we...Had a lot of food, played “soccer” and other sports and visited Yusupha and his family. I saw fancy hairdos, fancy outfits, and the kid[s] playing “soccer” and monkey-in-the-middle. (We played too!) I liked playing with the other kid[s], I also liked the outfits and the food!
We did have a great time with Yusepha and his family. Nate and Anna played and played with the kids in Gunjur (many of them Yusepha's relatives). Anna really connected with his 10 year old daughter Salii – she insisted on riding along when Yusepha took us back to Brikama. We'll find a way to get them together again soon. Nate also had fun with Salii playing football (soccer) with her and many others (see the photos below).
It was very enjoyable to spend the afternoon and evening with this warm family. Sitting out under the mango tree enjoying the food from the celebration. As Beth quickly observed, Tabaski seems like a lot of work for the women. The women at My Sister's Company confirmed this, adding that the day after Tabaski is the fun day. It seems for many the celebrations go well beyond that first day after the prayers. We have been hearing the partying from the Jokor night club in Brikama every night well into the night, with live concerts continuing past 2 or 3 AM, sleeping has not been easy.
Since I prepared materials for my classes Thursday and Saturday, but did not have enough students to hold a full class – I managed to get a bit ahead in my preparations. Beth and I have just read the book When Helping Hurts: How to alleviate poverty without hurting the poor...and yourself by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert. In this book a few simple ideas jumped out as particularly relevant for the engineering projects we will be working on in the spring. First our work here is definitely in the “development” stage, as opposed to “relief” and “rehabilitation.” They highlighted the success of interventions based on “People and Processes, Not Projects and Products.” And any “development” intervention should be asset based, not need based – in engineering design terms: start with the resources and limitations (of the community you are working with) along with the “problem” and design ways to address that problem within the limitations of that community. “Give me your tired, your poor, and Their ASSETS.” This will move our work toward economically sustainable solutions for the community. We will need to design solutions that are within the resources of the community being served. As such, other villages will be able to replicate the success of the one village. The book also highlights the ideas described by Bérengère de Negri et al. in the manual Empowering Communities: Participatory Techniques for Community-Based Programme Development. Vol 1. Trainer's Manual (Participants Handbook) available at http://pcs.aed.org/empowering.htm. Reproduced here from this document (as allowed):
I find this model powerful and very much in line with how I envision our design projects in the spring. The students (the majority of which are Gambian and therefore part of the community) should be interacting at the “cooperation” and “co-learning” modes with the US students and the community members in the specific village. This model will be front and center as we move forward.
Two other insights from the When Helping Hurts book that I am coming to understand are the African concept of time as a limitless resource (“There's always another Monday”) and the value of the community over the individual, both of which are in sharp contrast to US culture. I experience both of these in working with my students at the University and in encounters on the street.
I'm trying to get serious again about learning Mandinka. I've dug back into the Peace Corps manuals and am trying to talk more with Keta. Again, he knows almost no English, but with sign language and my very limited Mandinka vocab as a starting point I think I am starting to make some progress. I need to practice a lot more, but I can now tell Keta where I'm going and when I expect to be back to the buƞo (house), at least to the nearest hour. Sometimes he looks at me funny for a bit before he figures out what I'm trying to say, smiles, nods and corrects my pronunciation.
We also went to Abuko nature preserve last weekend, but I'll include those pictures and talk a bit about that next week – we had a nice afternoon there.
27 November 2010: Happy Thanksgiving! We indeed have a lot to be thankful for. We are doing very well and are all healthy. It was a little hard this week with all of us feeling a bit homesick, but we were able to enjoy Thanksgiving with our friends Gary and Denise Williamson on Friday – I had classes on Thursday. We roasted a chicken, had corn, fresh green beans, cranberry sauce, and Beth's West African Stuffing (African (a type of sweet potato) and “Irish” potatoes, tiyoo (peanuts), garlic, onion, and curry powder with Tapalapa bread - a chewy french bread). We had a great day.
Otherwise, this week was back to work here after the Tabaski celebrations. My students did well on their Photo-voltaic test - they were ready this time around. The students in Dynamics are working hard on difficult material that we are having to move through pretty fast at the end of the semester. The semester in the fall is shorter than the spring semester although both are officially 13 weeks, there is more wiggle room in the spring. We ended up with 25 sessions, but I was planning on the 28 I would usually have for the same course back home.
The weather here has definitely changed. It hasn't rained in weeks and likely will not do so until some time in June. The humidity is much lower so despite high temps in the low 90's and overnight lows of about 70 it is very comfortable. My ankles are also doing much better. So now, if I could just find “Big Sam” I'd be all set. Big Sam is the contact for registering for the Brufut Run in Brikama. A Google search revealed that Big Sam is a DJ at a radio station in Brikama. I've got a few weeks to track him down... I did enjoy running with a Gambian earlier this week – Lamin (almost every 1st born Muslim son in The Gambia is named Lamin) is also training for the run in Brufut. We run along the same road so we plan on seeing each other often.
Last week we had a wonderful time at Abuko, a nature preserve, just past the airport on the way to Serrekunda. The park is a quiet tropical forest that has been allowed to remain reasonably undisturbed. We were able to see monkeys, monitor lizards and lots of birds in the thickly wooded park. The park also includes an animal “orphanage” where animals were being rehabilitated for release back into the wild. They had baboons and hyenas from the provinces (up river) that were currently in their care. The hyenas were much bigger than we were expecting – we were glad they were caged. We called Muhammed to drive us to Abuko. He is the same driver that took us out to the beach a few weeks ago. He is a nice young man and does not overcharge us at all (despite our white skin) for the taxi service. We paid his admission to the park, D15 (50¢) and he joined us as an adopted part of our family for the afternoon, and then drove us back to Brikama. Muhammed was a better guide than the hired park ranger: spotting animals and helping (lifting) the kids to see them. At the exit we bought a nice Batik (probably overpaid, being at the park exit; but it was nice and not very expensive in US dollars).
We also were able to have a gentleman that works with the Williamsons in Pirang carve us a beautiful nativity set (I'll try to get a nice photo for next week as Sunday will be the start of advent). So we got an early start on our Christmas decorations this year, as we put that out right away last week. Jainiba saw the nativity set and announced to Beth that “you need a television for Christmas!” - apparently around Christmas the national television station broadcasts music from Christmas services. We don't plan on getting a TV – we'll probably attend one of the local churches on Christmas day, but it was a funny statement. Beth assured her we did not need a television!
We also helped Keta get a new watch battery this week. His watch had stopped and he brought it somewhere to have it fixed, but they eventually gave it back to him unfixed. He was very sad about the watch and came to the door looking for some help. I took the back off the watch and checked on the battery. He decided to go to the market to look for a battery, so I wrote down the battery type he needed. When I saw him later that day he was beaming and showed me the running watch. If you look hard enough, you can probably get almost anything at the market in Brikama.
4 December 2010: Last Sunday, we made another trip back out to Paradise Beach and the Black and White Beach Bar and Restaurant. It is fabulously quiet on Sunday afternoons. Moma (the owner(?) of B&W) told us it is much busier on Saturday evenings when tour groups from the hotels come. There are few places to stay (and no big hotels) in Sanyang (Paradise Beach) – which also means there are few (I didn't see any Sunday) of the Bumsters working the beach. It was a great day – definitely beach weather here with high temps in the mid to upper 90's, complete sun and humidity down below 40% most days. As requested we called Moma prior to heading out to the restaurant and she prepared lunch for us – fish and chips. The fish was local butter fish likely caught that morning and it was fabulous.
The semester is drawing to a close. Final exams are very intense here for the students as 50% or more of every course grade is based on the final exam. The system of weighting tends to push emphasis on the end of the semester, with many students perhaps procrastinating until the last weeks of the semester. The solar energy students are completing a second design project – this time designing a system for an off-grid upriver compound. This course has been great and the students are I are looking forward to the challenge of designing a system for a real client as part of the Engineering Design course I will introduce into the UTG curriculum next semester.
Gumbo Touray (Director of International Affairs and Information at UTG) has gotten very excited about my participation in the Brufut Run – he is encouraging students and staff with posters on campus to “attend the marathon and cheer up Prof. DeGoede on behalf of UTG.” I did get registered for the run Friday, but the pressure is on a bit – although Gumbo assured me “Its all for the fun and that you are one of us- UTG.” The contact at the College was a student who is part of the organizing committee for the run, and so I was able to connect with him. I never did find Big Sam.
I still see Brewer (aka Obama) every day and we often enjoy conversations about American politics. He keeps me up to speed – he watches CNN everyday and followed the elections like a hawk. He always says he has a “special place in his heart” for Americans and all the good work they do around the world and in The Gambia. I know he still always has a joy inspiring smile for me.
Jainiba and Keta cleaned up the old grill on Sunday, so we bought a couple of chickens to roast over the fire and Thursday Jainiba carried the rather heavy and large bag of charcoal to the compound (on her head I assume). Beth told her of her amazement at the things the women carry on their heads - “It gives me a head ache” was Jainiba's reply, with a laugh. The charcoal is large chunks of carbonized wood (the widespread use of the charcoal does highlight the need for a renewable biofuel). The bag Jainiba brought us was enough to last for several months of cookouts – a bag about 15” in diameter and a yard tall. Then Thursday evening Keta and I got the fire going with a few chunks wood and we roasted the chickens. We promised Keta some of the chicken and he definitely enjoyed it – as we did too. As you can see below Keta was inspired by our fire making. It is the time of burning in The Gambia. All over the place you see burning or smouldering piles of brush cut down and gathered up for burning. We assume this is to avoid brush fires later in the dry season, but we're not sure.
I had a shirt made by a local tailor, but the language barrier was definitely a problem – I think I have a nice gift for Keta. At the house, as with all of Brikama, the power has been pretty good with outages ever other evening for about 4-6 hours (and sometimes an "out" night is not out). But the water has been an adventure this week. Jainiba has brought water over from her well, and we have taken to keeping buckets around the house, not knowing when it will be out or for how long. It has never been off more than 12 hours at one time - we've been getting by.
Sunday we also did our home church with the four of us, using one of the sermons from a previous week back home at Etown Church of the Brethren. The message we read was from Pastor Pam on Peace, Service and Openness. She quoted a group of women from the church who responded “Because this is what is in front of us” in response to the question “why this [service], why now?” This simple response spoke powerfully to us as we thought about our time here in The Gambia.
11 December 2010: Neighbors. We have wonderful neighbors back home and miss them very much. We are starting to meet our neighbors here in the Gambia. I mentioned the gentleman on the corner who made the shirt. He does do fabulous work and I will have him make me another shirt (just with a little more precise instruction). That instruction will have to be related through his younger brother who is hoping to start classes at UTG in January studying in the sciences.
Binta and her family live kitty-corner to the tailor. Mama (a man's name, as opposed to Moma the woman's name) lives in the compound with Binta. Yesterday I met Mama as I was heading to the University. He walked with me down the street until reaching his friend's compound where he was going to spend the afternoon playing Scrabble. It took me a double take to get that one through the Mandinka accent. With the letter tiles, I ask – yes, do you know the game? I now have an open invitation to the local Scrabble club. Mama has also invited me to watch a soccer match at the stadium around the corner. If I caught it right he coaches one of the youth teams. The games can be quite serious and draw huge crowds. When the games are over Keta comes inside the compound if he was sitting out in the street previously.
We usually buy our tapalapa bread from the store opposite our corner. When they don't have something (usually bread or onion at this store) we are asking for the young man at the counter says “it is finished.” I'll have to get a photo. These stores are a wired off counter with a opening for exchanging goods and money (if I get too much to fit he walks around the counter with the bag). These little “convenience” stores are everywhere throughout the neighborhoods. Up the street from this store lives Yuseph and his family. Yuseph is probably in his 20's with a charming smile and the smooth talk of a local bumster. However, this is not the case with Yuseph. We have chatted often, many times as I walked past while he was sitting in the street with family of friends (sometimes Mama) having Attaya tea. The tea is made very strong and sweet with Chinese green "gunpowder" tea in a rather formal process. Heated on small charcoal stoves the tea is brewed in three rounds poured back and forth between glass tumblers with great flourish. I have several open invitations for tea. Anyway, Yuseph has impressed me lately with his hard work at their compound. I saw him the one day shoveling a huge mound of sand piled outside the gate of their compound. He explained that he was making blocks. A few days later when I was passing by he took me into the compound to show me his work. He has several guys working for/with him and had a lot of blocks made. These are sun dried mud blocks used for building houses and walls. His older brother wants to make a new room at the compound and hired Yuseph to make the blocks. I've also found him whitewashing over graffiti on the compound wall and chopping up a large mango branch that had been knocked down by a passing truck. In one of our conversations he noticed a small Gambian necklace I was wearing. He told me he makes jewelry like that and ran inside to get me a sample – it is a very nice necklace. He gave that to me and also told me he did batik and promised to bring some to show me. He has a stand at the craft market in Bakau. His batiks are wonderful – we were very impressed and bought two from him, he threw in a few more small necklaces as gifts.
Also, on my way to the university, before I get to the main road, I pass Saidu. Saidu runs a furniture making shop. They are often at work with small jobs but work is slow. He says he is hoping for work soon with Christmas coming. He was getting some pieces ready in anticipation.
Bai Bojang, the owner of the house, stopped by the other day to see how things were going and to ask me about solar systems for pumping water. Its quite an image seeing him talking to Keta - Bai is probably about 6' 8" tall to Keta's 4' and change. He has a large farm (hundreds of orange and mango trees and banana plants) in Jambajelly – I love that town name. Jambajelly is on the road between Brikama and Sanyang Beach. He is losing a lot of money at the farm because of the expense for pumping water and would like to install a PV system. This is a great need in the country – most water pumping on this scale is done by fossil fuel generators.
Others have talked to me about pumping water for a banana plantation and for water for cattle on a ranch. The students and I in the PV course were studying systems for pumping water a few weeks ago. This idea really resonated with the students who know all to well the work of pumping or hauling water out of wells. The final project extended that excitement as they are finishing up designs of a “PV system for an upriver compound.” It was interesting to see the differences in the designs from a group designing a system around a TV, stereo and computers, and another built for a sewing machine, iron and water pump. The students come from very different backgrounds within The Gambia. At the University classes have ended and exams are starting Monday. The exam period will extend until 22 December, but all my exams will be next week.
18 December 2010: Exams are completed – I still have some grading to do, but should have things wrapped up well before Christmas. The student I mentioned previously that had the great spark of ingenuity and initiative, met with Dr. Jain and I this week. He is likely going to be in the design course next semester and we discussed the idea of a practical and affordable solar cooker as a great project for that course. I look forward to having some more time starting toward the second half of next week to focus on that course. Getting the UTG physics students engaged in working out practical solutions to real problems in their communities will be exciting. The Solar Physics students made great progress in moving from their first design project (“we've never done anything like this before”) to the second – it was fun to grade those second projects this week.
A couple of quick follow up items: I did have a quick Attaya tea with Mama Tuesday – it is quite tasty – very sweet with strong tea flavor. I was passing by as Mama's friend was just finishing the brewing process. In the next couple of weeks I'll sit with them for a full tea session. I also had the tailor across the street make another shirt – I picked it up Saturday and it is great.
But, the big event for me this week was the Brufut Run. Saturday morning we were planning on meeting our driver from UTG out by the football stadium at 7:30. Unfortunately some crossed wires led to the driver planning on picking us up at 8:30. About 8:00 we grabbed a taxi to arrange a ride up to the Kairaba Avenue race start, scheduled for 9:00. Along the way we were intercepted by the UTG car and completed the trip with the driver from UTG. In the end, I had plenty of time – the race didn't actually start until 9:40. The big crowd huddled around one guy, with names on loose scraps of paper, assigning race numbers was not the fastest approach. But it got done in the end. Fortunately it was one of the coolest mornings we've had since arriving (it was probably slightly below 70 at dawn), and the clouds covered the sun for the first 2/3 of the race. It can be pretty warm by 10:00.
There were about 100 men in the 15k race (actually it measured about 13.3k) including 4 other “toubobs.” Lamin the runner I had met on the road a couple of weeks ago came up to me before the race – when I pressed, he finally said he was planning to finish in about 42 minutes (that's pretty fast even for 13.3k - about 5 minutes a mile). I told him I hoped to see him at the finish about 20 minutes after he got there. Afterward, he complimented me on finishing just 14 minutes behind him rather than 20. My legs felt good and I ran a satisfying 56 minute race. Despite the “cool” morning I was getting pretty warm by mid race when the sun came out. Then, we turned off the Coastal road into the sand – a road like the ones in our neighborhood with loose sand over most of the road surface, it was slow going from there so I wasn't all that disappointed when I turned a corner and saw the finish about a mile earlier than I expected.
I impressed a number of the runners for my ability to run despite my old age (I took it as a compliment) – not many of those running were much over 30. I had a chance to talk quite a bit with several of the athletes, many of them very strong runners – representing the small Gambian running community. A small but hopefully growing community, today was the 16th running of the Brufut “Marathon” and with 100 in the men's race it had certainly grown from the 10 entrants in the first race.
The post race festivities were something to see. Two Dutch runners working with the UN World Food Program raised funds to help sponsor the race, purchasing the food items in the picture below. Every finisher received a signed certificate of completion and the crowd at the finish was huge. I was interviewed by three radio networks as "the Professor from UTG who participated in the race." The festivities included no less than 6 speeches, a drama by the Red Cross on food safety, the awards and certificate presentations, ending with a dance in the evening. We decided to head out midway through the second speech, though I won't be surprised to have someone show up in my office to deliver my certificate later in the week.
A few days ago I made cinnamon crunch popcorn (a type of kettle corn with cinnamon and sugar) and gave a bowl to Keta – He liked it VERY much, “Abaraka baake, abaraka baake,...”
26 December 2010: Merry Christmas! We had an wonderful and exciting Christmas week here in The Gambia.
Early in the week I finished up the grading for my courses, and it all worked out well. The students did fine on the final exam, despite the refrains of “very difficult paper, Prof, very difficult...”. On Thursday I had a chance meeting with a woman, Anna, in the office. She had studied in Norway, as did Momodou and was typing up a letter at his office. I introduced myself to her before she left and discovered she works in Gambian fishery oversight. One of our possible projects for the design course next semester involves looking at more renewable ways to smoke fish – Anna was instantly engaged in the idea of this project offering her assistance on the work. It is truly a small world in The Gambia, it seems you don't have to go far to find someone who knows exactly the person you need to talk to.
Beth's sister, Krista, was to arrive this evening, but her flight to Montreal was delayed and with only three flights a week from Brussels to Banjul, missing the connection to Brussels delays her arrival here by a frustrating two days. We'll be glad to see her when she arrives and we hope she is able to get some good sleep along the way. Krista can be a light sleeper and we are a little concerned about the 5:00 AM call to prayer: “To an ear disoriented by deep sleep it sounds like bagpipes warming up or a very ancient siren being cranked into life...it coalesces into a rough approximation of a voice, albeit weirdly stretched and distorted...another voice chimes in, at a different pitch and much further away, then another, close by, hard hooting, metallic...” Michael Palin describing the dawn summons in his companion book to his BBC documentary on the Sahara (a great find on the used shelf at Timbooktoo).
Wednesday evening we hosted Binta's (Jainiba's daughter) first ever birthday party – she turned 16. She had asked if she could bring some food over for us for her birthday. We wanted to make her a cake – our first success in our borrowed solar oven (it gets up to about 240°F in our driveway). Host is the right word, that was the limit of our role along with the cake. Binta said they would come by about 4 or 5. Not sure exactly what the plan was; at 5:00 Beth and the kids decided to bring the cake over to their compound. But as they were leaving our place the food started arriving here. Binta and Jainiba had cooked all day. The children kept coming heading back out for the next load – load after load perched on the heads of the kids carrying the food into our house. All of Jainiba's family was here along with two of Binta's friends and their families (I think). Whoever they all were, there were close to 20 people in all. We had a great time. I played Uno with Nate and four of the guest children while we were waiting – prior to Uno me, Nate, Anna and several children and teens we didn't know were all just sort of sitting looking at each other me. Trying to help them get comfortable I suggested a game. Uno turned out to be perfect; the kids here play a crazy 8's game and caught on quick to Uno. The food was very good from sweet (pounded rice, sugar, bananas and coconut) to the spicy (smoked fish, okra and hot peppers), and plentiful. We did not even eat half of it. The “party favors” were more food including a very tasty chicken dish they did not even serve at the party (we had a great supper again Thursday). At the end of the evening Nate and Anna played wonderfully with Jainiba's three youngest daughters, most of the time playing a Marco Polo type game with a blindfolded participant trying to catch the others who taunt with giggles and friendly taps. It was a fun night for us and Binta was beaming!
Then during the day on Thursday Sally, Yusupha's daughter – who we met on Taboski, came for the day to play. She had a great time playing with Nate and Anna, but Yusupha had a long day at the office and did not get back to pick her up until 6:00 (she arrived at 10:00). She had a culture overload – Sally speaks little English (this year is her first at the English school instead of the Arabic school) and was more comfortable using Keta's pit toilet out back. Nate and Anna would lay out things on the ground and have Sally pick out what to do. They played more of the blindfold game, Uno, Wiffle ball, soccer, …
And then it was Christmas. We enjoyed a fabulous Christmas together, completely removed from the commercialism of the US. It was day filled with peace and joy.
From the kids:
Nate's Santa poem
Were you a witness on Christmas,
of Santa doing business on Christmas eve.
For you must of achieved a great thing to see Santa on Christmas eve.
Was he hot or cold?
Skinny or fat?
Was he young or old?
Hairy or bald with a hat?
I'd like to know about him, but...
don't tell me if he has shins.
Anna's letter to Santa
To: Santa Claus
North Pole Street
From: Anna DeGoede
Africa, The Gambia
Brikama, Football field. Black compound.
How are you? How is Ruldolph?Do you have any new reindeer? Do you bring elves on the trip? What is your favorite type of cookie? I like shortbread cookies! Do you have a Christmas tree? How do you get new outfits when they get too big? Do you get presents? Do you get visitors? Is red your favorite color?
P.S. I'm going to mail this to North Pole St. OK?