January 28, 2011

Aerobics is Tough... No Matter Where You Are

    It would appear that both Aerobics and new languages are difficult no matter where you are. I have never been gifted at aerobics. The ability to move both my arms and legs to a rhythm simultaneously has always eluded me, but why not give it a chance? So we joined for the month for 100 dalasi ($3) and went to our first aerobics class in the stadium.  The national stadium is located about a 20 to 25 minute walk from our house. It was at one point the “pride of the nation,” but in recent years has fallen into a state of dilapidation which is seemingly not uncommon for the Gambia. First of all the man who runs this must be former military because his counts of 1, 2, 3 can be heard throughout the “parking lot” surrounding the stadium…terrifying. Second, he is a tyrant, but a very smiley one. I sweated, hopped, stretched and did ridiculous moves with the Gambian women around me… each of us smiling at one another when we would cheat on the last few sit ups or groan when he asked if we wanted to do ten more sets. I am sure they were wondering why this Toubob was in their aerobics class considering that the idea of a white person in Gambia means one of two things: tourist or Peace Corps volunteer; neither of which is present in the immediate area, but this was the first situation where I the white American woman have been on some sort of equal grounds with the Gambians around me. There we are sweating away and paying for it, all of us girls just trying to get our hands to touch the ground for that final stretch and hoping he doesn’t add anything else. We were all just there doing our thing and getting our sweat on.
 On the day to day walking from place to place, I stick out like a sore thumb. There is the occasional “hey pretty lady” or kiss from the guys that past, (I promise that was not vanity speaking, an 80 year old woman with a cane would get call “Beautiful Empress” if she was a Toubob around here) the kids yelling “Hello Toubob” then running up to hold our hands.  Blending is not really an option, especially when the majority of people see dollar signs written across my not so tan skin and my oh so western attire.  All of that to say, the Gambian people here are beautiful in every way. Not only are the women tall and regal (once again making me feel short) but everyone is so gracious; brimming with smiles and greetings.  Many will greet with “Salaamaleekum” or “peace be with you” to which I respond (when I am not too nervous or scared to mispronounce it) “meleekumSalaam” or “Peace be with you as well.”  During our Wolof (one of two local languages) we have learned some basic words and phrases which will hopefully bring me one step closer to creating a (albeit short) life here with friends, acquaintances, neighbors, and work-out buddies.

January 26, 2011

Time to Take A Gully-Gully

These past two days have been a series of adventures meant to acclimate us to living here in the Gambia (this may have included a time or two at the beach) To be honest very little is the same as life at home, and if it similar there are some distinct flourishes that make things distinctly West African.

    We officially applied to the University of the Gambia yesterday. First of all school started last week. The new class schedule came out last night and we will probably start to attend classes next week. We went to the college today to drop off our class forms only to find that most of the people we came to speak to were not around, but we did get to experience the wonders of the Gully-Gullys (like Gulla Gulla Island for those of you in my generation of Nickelodeon)

     Gully-Gullys are the van/taxis that take groups of people to the various key intersection around the Gambia. This is my current preoccupation, and concern is catching one of these urban death traps.(just kidding death is unlikely, the drivers are very skilled at maneuvering the roads) Let me lay out the scene. It is about a ten minute walk to the junction which is the meeting of several roads. There vans line up/drive down the road with a driver and his associate (I don't know if that person has a title) leaning out the window yelling which direction/city they are going to. You then need to flag down the one which is going in your direction and he precedes to pull off into the sand that lines the roads. After you get in as quickly as possible cramming into wherever you may fit. For some reason this task seems really overwhelming to me at the moment, but I am sure I will eventually get used to it.

     Beyond this lovely travel tale I have also gone to a forest reserve and hung out with some monkeys, who seemed to like me depsite my obvious We went to a supermarket, which has some familiar things like cereal which was great to see, as well a beach where we had a lovely chat with a bumpster who told us that during our stay we had to "trust our heart, but be careful who we trust, but love is my ambition" and that there is a difference between "gold diggers and love diggers." Point Taken

January 24, 2011

Arrival-Time to Start Walking

    I am in the Gambia!!! After about 30ish hours a travel, myself and all of my luggage (so thankful) arrived in Banjul around 8 pm. After snuggling with fellow passengers and eating lots of airline food I could not have been happier to finally arrive at my destination. Our go to guy in the Gambia, Mohammed, greeted us at the airport. Although school has technically started, it has not actually started per West Africa/Gambia standards. We will probably start sometime next week.
     We spent the day walking around trying to get our bearings, and eventually headed to the beach for a late lunch. I will probably has very impressive calf muscles when  return to the US, because not only do we walk almost everywhere, but we walk in the sand. Most of the main roads are paved, but all of the pedestrians walk along the sides which consists of sand, actually everything consists of sand.
     During our walks there were several striking things that I think you may appreciate:
-I encountered my first bumpsters today... more info to come
-Goats, dogs, cats, chickens, and children roam free. All of which is fine and lovely, except for a altercation    with a goat in my childhood which has left me a little nervous around them (a goat at the zoo ate my jacket which I was wearing as I stood there paralyzed in fear)
-Cold showers will be the highlight of my day, not that a hot shower is an option.
-The exchange rate is 28.5 Delasi to 1 Dollar... I might be a millionaire
-They luckily eat A LOT of bread here, which suits me perfectly
-Apparently Hippos are a concern here.
- I am officially a Toubob, aka stranger/westerner, the kids like to greet us with "Hello Toubob!"

Pictures to Come.

January 15, 2011

Pre Departure

     I am spending my semester abroad in The Gambia, a small nation in West Africa. (You can Google "the Gambia" and click images. I had no idea where it was so I don't expect you to.) This blog is a means of keeping connected with my friends and family as well as sharing some of my stories and day to day adventures. These five months have the potential to be filled with some interesting moments.
   I have little by little thrown items into my ever growing pile of "Africa Stuff" inside of one mammoth suitcase meant to go the distance from Pittsburgh to Banjul with me. I have finally started packing and conceptualizing what five months worth of shampoo and conditioner is a little tougher than I thought; not to mention that bug spray in mid-January is not so easy to find. After carefully stuffing and cramming items ranging from floor-length skirts to enough ibuprofen to fend off every ailment known to man  I feel somewhat prepared. With one week to go there are tons of last minute things to do ( most importantly spending excessive quantities of time with my dog/family and eating lots of food I am sure to miss in the upcoming months) but I can't wait to finally get there!