Asalaam maale(kum)! *They leave out the ending when they say it in Gambia for some reason.
Gambia? Gambia?!? What's that? Why is Kelly talking about the Gambia?
Well I'll tell you...
But first let me apologize for taking so long to update this. I've been crazy busy.
-Talent Show/Festival at my host brother's school
-Daara (Islamic school) field trip
-Weekend trip to the Gambia
Last week I had the opportunity to go to my youngest brother Dame's primary school. The children performed skits, recited poems and sang songs for the parents. Each class had something different to contribute to the festivities.
One class had a sort of fashion show competition where all of the students dressed up in the traditional clothing of different ethnic groups (Wolof, Pulaar, Mandinka, Ghanian, etc...) and a panel of judges (parents whose children were not in the competition) decided who was the best-dressed and thus King and Queen of the school.
My brother took part in a skit where they taught children not to play soccer near the street so as not to be hit by a car.
Another class presented a song where they talked about stopping the spreading of AIDS and ending war/violence in countries such as Sudan and Congo.
I had another very educational experience last week as well when my Education Class took a field trip to a Daara.
So what exactly is a daara?
A daara is an Islamic school where a Marabou (religious leader/teacher)teaches students the Koran (Islamic holy text). Each child has their own tablet (sort of a miniature chalkboard) where they have a lesson written down.
They spend several hours a day memorizing this one lesson and at the end of the day they recite it to the Marabou. If they have successfully completed their lesson it gets erased and a new lesson is written on their tablet. If they do not successfully complete their lesson they are punished and have to spend the next day making sure they memorize this lesson.
All of the children were crowded into a small square space where they recited their lessons.
In this particular daara there seemed to be an equal number of boys and girls (which was very interesting because I thought that mostly boys went to daaras). However, the Marabou did explain that boys and girls were usually taught in separate spaces within the daara.
It was a very interesting experience and I'm hoping that I can learn more about daaras before heading back to the states.
Now, about the Gambia...
What happens when your Thursday classes get canceled and you don't have any classes on Friday or Monday because it's Easter weekend?
Well my friends Debby, Morgan, and I decided that it would be the perfect opportunity to travel to the Gambia. Yes, it is its own country in spite of the fact that it is surrounded by Senegal.
Here's a slightly more detailed map that shows all of the places we visited:
Thursday we got up at 4:40AM and headed found a 7-place (taxi with seven seats) to Kaolack, Senegal where we waited for 2 hours to find another 7-place going to Farafenni (A town near the border of Senegal but technically in Gambia). It was quite a hassle once we got there because we needed to change our money (They have their own currency - the Gambian Dalasi).
Normally changing money wouldn't be a problem, except that it was a holiday and the bank was closed. So we ended up going into the local market and found some people to change money for us. (We knew the rate ahead of time so we had a pretty even exchange). Plus, most people in the Gambia speak English (since they were colonized by the British - not the French, like Senegal) so it was a lot easier to communicate with people.
Then we started looking for a way to get to Georgetown (which the locals refer to as JangJang-Bureh). It was at this point that we met a really nice/helpful man named Jatto. Jatto was headed to Georgetown as well and so we all got on a bus together. The bus driver tried to overcharge us (because it was obvious that we had NO idea how much anything should be) but Jatto came to our rescue and made sure we paid the same amount as everyone else.
On the way to Georgetown Jatto informed us that his brother was the manager of the camp we were planning on staying in. Darboe (Jatto's brother) was very nice, generous, and knowledgeable about the historical background of the area. He was kind enough to take us around to see a stone circle (I'll explain more about that later), the freedom tree and the slave house.
The camp we stayed in was absolutely amazing. Beautiful. Peaceful. In short - it was paradise.
It was located right on the river - but the water was very calm because we were so far upstream. Plus, there were monkeys EVERYWHERE. We even got to feed them bread at one point.
These are some various pictures taken around the camp:
Now about these stone circles... There's a big touristy one located in Wassu, but that was too far away so Darboe showed us a smaller one located closer to the camp.
The stone circle is what it sounds like - a big circle of stones.
On these big stones there are several smaller stones and tradition holds it that if you hold one of these smaller stones while standing in the middle of the area around the big stones you can ask God for anything and he will give it to you.
We also got to travel around and see the slave house and the freedom tree. Supposedly if a slave touched the freedom tree he was able to sign a book and be declared as a free man from that day forward.
Darboe surprised us with lunch which we ended up eating around the bowl like we were family. Debby got to carry the lunch back to the campsite like a real African woman.
After spending a couple of nights in Jangjang-bureh we left for Soma. We spent the night there and then took a day trip out to Kiang West National Park. We didn't really see any animals there, but we did have a nice long hike and we got to meet a peace corps volunteer there.
Overall it was a great trip. We got back to Dakar Monday afternoon after a very long bus ride (7 hours).
I'll try to be better about updating this more often.
I'll post pictures soon.
jamm ak jamm,