Day Fourteen - Friday, February 8th, 2002 - Homestay - Sanyang Family

Today has been a tough day. We were warned that the homestay would most likely be the most difficult and also, it must be said, the most rewarding (in its own way) part of our training.

Morning was essentially a matter of getting all of our stuff together that would be going to our families' homes and having breakfast (24 minutes for bread today – not bad). Jane and Sam were preparing to go to Bansaang where they would be having an abbreviated homestay with local families there (they figured it was more appropriate since they would be living in the town anyway and it also gave them a chance to see their homes before they move into them in a week or so).

The truck was too small to take us all at one time so we went in two batches into the town. I was in the second trip and as we travelled along the road we saw Freida dressed in a local dress at the market already – she was in the first group. After picking up a few local people that Ebrima (who was driving us) knew we headed off along the dirt road that led to both mine and Christine's families which are about a mile north of the town centre.

When I was dropped off at the house, only the eldest daughter was there so I was shown into my room and put up my mosquito net (not all that easy since the ceiling/roof is quite some distance above the bed and the beams that I tied it to are rough hewn. This occupied only a short time so I headed out the back door to see whether or not I could help so I was put to work pounding some spices, peppers, garlic and onions using a large mortar and pestle. She was cooking in the small cookhouse behind the house. There is a small fire in the middle of the (approximately) 6 foot by 6 foot room with all of the various pots stacked around the walls (on the ground) and the knives (all aluminium - - not terribly good at cutting, very blunt) are just slid between the pieces of wood on the door for storage. The fire was really hot and she had a wok with a good amount of oil in it smoking away in it. She added some smoked fish and a number of other things as I was put to use cutting up some vegetables including potatoes and bitter tomato (which I have to admit aren't my favourite vegetable). I was able to continue my efforts by drawing water from the well – they have a good system of two buckets at opposite ends of a circular length of rope on a pulley – when you pull one bucket up the other drops to get more water (the 'buckets' are simply plastic oil containers adapted for water retrieval – ie. bigger holes).

As to how much I helped, this is debatable as I was attempting to assist with the washing up – not realizing that the corn meal mush was meant for the chickens (she took care of it for me throwing it simply into the bushes near the banana trees). I was able to entertain a younger son who showed up a few minutes later with my hat. I have to tell you about my hat. This is a gift from my mother for Christmas and it is a “Tilley” hat that she brought for me from Canada. It a panama-style beige rough-and-tumble hat that is very good at keeping the sun off of my neck and face while I have been here. It is getting a bit dirty and it is certainly well used but I use it all the time. I must admit that the boy really enjoyed it and had a great time when I took his picture with my digital camera and showed it to him (“me?”). Of course, he did not speak any English but seemed a lot smarter than he let on. This is common with the children here who are not as innocent as they appear – they can't be as they are left to their own resources much of the time.

The mother arrived and we very quickly got organized for lunch which we had using a communal bowl on the floor of the front room. The lunch was very good and the smoked fish absolutely fantastic. It was a bit hot eating though they gave me a spoon (and I was not the only one using a spoon in the expanding crowd of family around me). Eventually, despite their insistence I continue, I stopped eating and relaxed for a few minutes. They cleaned up the mess left on the floor and a few minutes later my host father appeared. He was very welcoming and I made sure he got his Kola nuts (a traditional offering to the family as a gesture of respect – also given to the Alkalo when visiting a village, again, out of respect) and thanked him for his hospitality. His English is such that I believe he understood. I was then invited to have lunch again with the father (it is a gesture of respect to eat with the head of the household) which I dutifully did – though I was getting more than a little full of food – who is that says I will loose weight while in the Gambia?

After lunch I was running a bit low on water so we headed off to visit our neighbour (the Joofs) who were hosting Christine. She was given the water filter for us (VSO had indicated that we should be filtering any water we drink in the village) but it was not working so a son was sent to get water from the local village tap. The village actually has centrally piped (and treated) water throughout though the tap was a bit of distance away and it was getting hot – our hosts insisted they send the son.

We headed back to the compound where I was sat in a chair outside the front of the house and went over the various parts of the body (in Wolof of course) – Mr. Cham keeping to his promise at my last visit that I would be getting language lessons during my stay with him. It was a bit awkward as he pointed out the various parts of the anatomy on his son (including, to our embarrassment, the nether regions). It was very good but getting a bit overwhelming when Chris (tine) visited from the neighbour as they were on their way in their car to town for our nightly meeting (at 6 each day during our homestay we are to meet at the bank area for a “feedback” session – but we agreed it would be a good time to see how everyone else was getting along anyway so we all thought it would be a good idea to meet regardless of whether or not there was anything to discuss). Actually, Mr. Joof needed to have his car radio fixed so we were invited to sit on a bench along a wall (in the shade) near where the bush taxis congregate while he haggled with a local mechanic as they fixed it. As we sat there we simply watched what was going on in the village around us – a man was grinding peanuts (groundnuts) using a large mill to our right, Mr. Joof was getting his car fixed in front of us, a large number of children were fetching water at the local pump just past the bush taxi car park ahead of us (all dirt car park, of course), a few woman were selling things by the side of the road just off to our left and the main road through the village was on our extreme left (currently being paved using rather large machinery). As we sat there, Chris was given a gift of a large bag of fresh fruit from a local who knew that she was a vegetarian and we had met a few days ago. We were both overwhelmed and he was thanked repeatedly.

We then headed off to Ebrima's house, though Chris and I did not really want to visit him, Mr. Joof was thinking we should (I guess). He was sleeping when we arrived in his busy compound so we sat in his (small) front room admiring his extensive video tape collection and music posters on the walls. He eventually joined us though Chris and I felt like we were disturbing his private life (though he introduced us to his youngest – very pretty) so we suggested, after some repeated urgings, that we would go for a short walk and meet back at the bank for the meeting at 6. As we headed off we were told not to go along the path we had just been following to see where it went since it went into the “bush” (some compounds are well out of the town and not accessible by car). We were only just walking not with a particular destination in mind but, due to their insistence, we headed on a more direct path to the bank (though we were NOT in a hurry). We passed by a large number of children in a few compounds, giving our greetings as we passed. Eventually we made it to the main road and the school that we had visited the other day. We walked along the side of the road trying to avoid the various signs of road construction all around us (piles of dirt here and there, construction vehicles on the side of the road, etc.).

At the bank we met up with the other volunteers and shared a bit about our days. Obviously, as is the case with this sort of thing, we talked largely about the unusual or not so good parts of our stays – though we all agreed that the people we were staying with and had met were very nice and welcoming. Philip indicated that he was being left by himself largely (this is a local sign of respect) eating by himself and not being able to communicate at all (they seem to speak no English at all). Marcel and Jolanda seem to be the only adults other than the Alkalo in their compound – there are a lot of children so they are feeling a bit overwhelmed. They met with the Alkalo only briefly when they arrived in their compound but since he is very old and their language skills are not that good yet communication was a bit of a problem. Chris indicated that she has cockroaches in her bedroom and a hay mattress. Freida, who was really worried before her homestay, is one who is having the time of her life – she is very happy and modelled her outfit that was given to her by her homestay family. Despite all of the moanings, everyone agreed that things were going well and that we really all enjoyed and liked our families.

After our little informal meeting Papa Joof took us for a bit of a drive in his car. We headed back to the main paved road that goes to Sanyang (and meets the road going through the village at a right angle) and then headed south for a short distance watching children beside the road throwing stones into a Baobab tree attempting to get some fruit. We left the main road and headed into some small side roads south of the village. The roads, if anything, are much worse than we had seen anywhere else in this area with massive drainage ditches through the middle of them. We bounced around past a number of compounds, as we stopped for about half an hour to watch a performance being given in the 'street' as part of a naming ceremony taking place today. The naming ceremony itself is typically followed by dancing and singing at various places around the village well into the night. It was fun to watch the mothers with their small children bundled tight on their backs bouncing around in time with their mother's dancing (amazing to think that they just use a length of fabric and wrap their child in with it). One child was even fast asleep! The music was wonderful as we stood a bit of a distance away and watched. The sun was setting as they continued dancing under the shade of a big baobab tree and we watched as some bats made their first forays of the night.

Eventually we headed back to our houses and I was let off at my gate where there were a few children waiting for me. I made my way into the house and had a sit and chatted (much as I could with the language) for a few minutes before they brought out dinner (which was, again, very nice, a fish benechin).

After dinner I chatted for a few minutes with a relative who was there visiting. She is studying to be a teacher and speaks very good English. It was good since I was able to get into a discussion with her about what VSO is and what I am doing in the country. She was quite interested and it made the situation a bit less awkward than I felt it was. The mother started peeling ground nuts on the floor off to one side of the front room as we sat around and chatted (well, everyone else chatted, I only chimed in when I was spoken to – many times just to repeat something that someone said to me in Wolof). They attempted to watch television on their small black and white set but it did not last as the car battery they were using went flat.

Eventually I headed off into my room to go to bed but I forced myself to visit the toilet before I did this. It was pitch dark outside (there are no street lights in this country) as I used my torch to find my way to the hole in the ground that they used for this purpose in one corner of the compound (on the other side of a small area of planting). It is separated from the rest of the compound with a small waist-high woven fence and is a bit of a bulge of concrete with a hole in the middle. It was swarming with cockroaches. Luckily men don't have to crouch to use the toilet most of the time…I took some time on my way back to the house to admire the wonderfully clear sky.

I returned to my room and used the rest of what was remaining of the candle I had lit earlier for the family (it seemed to be better than the ones that they were using – a lot bigger and brighter – Jane and I had picked some of them up near the Serekunda market about a week ago) to attempt to read – but this did not really work all that well. The room is VERY hot since they closed all of the windows and doors (the doors, on their insistence, are locked as well, from my side). Tomorrow is the one full day of our homestay.

⇒ Continue to Day Fifteen - Saturday, February 9th, 2002 - Homestay - Sanyang Family