Can you tell I'm a big fan of alliteration? Well, the big ol' b-day came and went. Still not exactly sure about the whole "quarter of a century" thing, but the celebration around it was at least entertaining. As I had envisioned in my head, I baked myself a spice cake with cream cheese frosting (don't worry, I wanted to bake it myself- I miss baking). Also on the menu for the party was a homemade snack mix full of oaty cereal stuff and caramelized pretzels (thanks Erica!), oatmeal cookies, pasta with veggies and homemade sangria with fruit (well, made with box red wine, box fruit juice, and ginger ale "lime drink"). It was a good spread. Kind of difficult to transport back on a gele-gele, but with my really awesome and helpful friend's help, we made it happen. They even decorated my house and it really felt like an American b-day party. A lot of my site mates came to help celebrate, as well as some up country friends from my health group. My host family came over for a few minutes to taste the goods. I've noticed a lot of the time when we share "American" food with our host families, they Gambianize it by adding mayonnaise, Jimbo aka MSG, or put the contents on bread, but this time they gobbled up the snacks. Guess it's hard to flavor up oatmeal cookies. Thanks again for all the birthday cards and care packages. It really meant a lot to be able to open them on the day.
Speaking of care packages, my aunt from Dallas really followed through with the toothbrush and toothpaste request from last time. I opened her package to find, amongst the Mike and Ikes and Burts Bees (of which I can officially say I have enough of now to last the next two years), about 200 individually wrapped and pre-dipped in toothpaste, toothbrushes. After running into one of my site mates and discussing with her my new toothbrush distribution dilemma, we decided a demo was in store. So that night, during the regular gathering of neighborhood kids at my host family's TV, I brought one of the toothbrushes, asked what it was called in Mandinka and told the crowd my aunt sent me a lot and that I wanted to show them how to brush their teeth. Some of the guys said they already knew how, but I shot back with the "but if you come, I will give you one" line and the next morning kids I hadn't even seen were telling me they were coming to my class. To prepare for the demo, I wrote a little song to the tune of "This is the way you..." and took it to work to get help translating a few words I didn't know. By 5:30, there was a swarm of kids outside my compound where, fairly quickly tooth brushing became the coolest thing on the street. I did my little demo, then handed the swarm their own toothbrushes and told them that I was going to sing my little song while they brushed their own teeth. It went a little something like this:
I ka da josi, tenne tenne
I da ku, I da ku
I ka da josi, tenne tenne
Ni kunun ta
I made sure to emphasize the importance of returning the toothbrush to the package it came in, because I could just see 100 plastic bags blowing about around the compounds. Since no trash system is installed, littering becomes first habit. It was all over in about 30 minutes, but the next day I asked a girl how many times she'd brushed her teeth and even though I'd said it should be done at least twice a day, she answered 4! Marilina, you would be so proud! I have enough left to do another demo and plan on breaking out in the song every now and then to keep the spirit of teeth brushing alive.
The next evening, I went to go hang out with the kids again and found only my mother, Tida lying on the couch, fanning herself from mosquitoes. I asked where everyone was and she said they were at the wedding that was happening a few compounds away. I was all ready for a quiet evening of writing letters, but decided to throw on a skirt and wander to the "knot tying". I immediately recognized a bunch of my neighbors, who were all dressed in the same fabric for the event (this is called an asobe) and was taken in and welcomed. It had been going on for a while already, but the bride was still washing and getting ready so there was a bunch of sitting around to be had. Then all of a sudden, a taxi pulled up outside the compound wall and a huge crowd migrated from the house to the taxi and I later realized that the bride was in the middle of the crowd. Then the taxi started off and people started shouting "manno bito! manno bito!" which translates to the knot tying and began following the taxi, where the destination turned out to be her husband's compound. It was already pretty late, and I didn't know where we were heading, but my neighbor, Awa, was with me, so I decided to see what all the fuss was about. When we got there, the girls started shouting "Mariama came!!!" and pulled me into the dance circle where I busted out a few moves and took this picture of my friend, Kaddy and her son, Alhagie-Modou. Still not sure who or where the bride was (the grooms rarely come to these events), I asked and they pointed out this figure completely covered with a white cloth laying on a mat, surrounded by sitting family members. Next to her was a calabash, gourd bowl where dancing attendants can throw money. I tossed some money in, took note of the covered bride, said my goodbyes and was accompanied back home by Awa.
Work with the support group is fairly slow at the moment. We rescheduled a board meeting, only to have no one but myself show up for the rescheduled one. A few of us are still working on getting the cashew orchard started and plan to re-plant the polypots of germinated cashews next week sometime. I also had this idea of promoting the "Teryiaa" CD on one of my favorite radio stations to listen to online, KEXP. One DJ has a show called Best Ambiance on Monday evenings where he play music from Africa. I finally got the literature together they suggested one sends when trying to get airplay, and sent him the info through email and a CD through the mail. He responded the next day by saying he was really looking forward to receiving the package and that he'd visited Gambia twice and studied with a kora player here. I can only hope that this will lead to good things! (like you guys tuning into Best Ambiance on Monday evenings from 6-9 and hearing a song from Allatentu Support Band and saying "Hey! that's the group my really awesome (insert relationship to me), Courtney, works with! Wow, that music is kick'n. I must buy that CD!") By the way, a link to KEXP is on the link list to the left of the page as "Good Music".
I'm taking my first vacation in a few weeks. I'm headed to Greece with a good friend from the States and we are going to spend a few weeks in Crete, practicing Ashtanga with a great man my Norman yoga teacher studied with. Yeah, I'm pretty stoked. Over the next two weeks, I'll be working on getting stuff together to bring, as well as helping out on clinic days, singing about brushing teeth, transplanting cashew trees, helping my new education volunteer site mates feel welcome (congrats to swearing in guys!) as well as giving tips to new urban volunteers (Yes it's normal to want to punch that boy who just cursed you out in the face. No you don't have to greet everyone you pass like they ingrained into our heads in training- you'd never make it to work!)
I still miss you guys a tons and look forward to mail day and keeping in contact with all as much as when I first left, so keep em coming!