Monthly Archives: July 2012

The kids are here! The kids are here! The anxiously-awaited summer program began today, with 25 students descending upon the YMCA computer lab. They range in age from 5-16, and we spent this morning doing introductory exercises and name games. The younger kids will start coming from 9-11, and the older ones from 12-2. Very few of them can pronounce “Cameron” so I spent 3 hours this morning very confused when I kept hearing them address someone as “Aunty.” It took about 2 hours and 58 minutes to realize that they meant me. In the next two weeks before I leave, I will start them on typing, Microsoft Word and the Internet, at which point another teacher will take over and introduce them to Excel, PowerPoint, and introduction to programming. Many of them have used a computer before, but some of them couldn’t even figure out how to log in. A definite challenge for me is going to be making sure that nobody gets forgotten or left behind in the instruction, while keeping the interest of the more advanced students. I have worked with students in a classroom setting, in a summer camp setting, and in a coaching setting, but have never had such a wide range of experience.

On a completely separate note…..

Growing up in San Francisco I am definitely food-spoiled, especially in the Ruby household (shout out to Caryl and Lucien, hey guys). The amount of fresh food in our house was never lacking, and we live in one of the best cities in the world for food. And going to a college in California with five dining halls and endless options hasn’t helped my very pampered taste buds. Coming to West Africa, I was nervous. I had heard that fresh food was hard to come by and that my options would be very limited. Also, having a one-burner kitchen and constant power outages at my hostel, cooking didn’t seem like it would be much of an option, so I knew I would be relying on the restaurants in my area. However, I have been surprised.

Every menu I have experienced here is abundant with simple pastas (“carbonnarra” being a big favorite) as well as various pizzas, sandwiches, burgers and such. Every dish is served with french fries. The Lebanese influence is big in food, with lots of shwarma restaurants, the dish making an appearance at the Gambian and European-style restaurants as well. Even at your more local-looking hole-in-the-wall lunch spots, customers are greeted with a few sandwich options, primarily egg with ketchup, mayonnaise or french fries. The sandwiches are wrapped in printer paper and usually these spots have lines of school children outside. Especially now, during Ramadan, when only the smaller ones get to eat during the day. The supermarkets are primarily Lebanese-owned, and the ones in my area are American-style, with European products and bakeries or butcher shops in the back. The fresh food is scarce in these, however, and the women by the side of the road, selling food almost as brightly colored as their dresses, have healthier looking fruits and vegetables than the big stores. They sell tomatoes, mangoes, cucumbers, onions and cabbage, as well as the occasional banana. When I tried to order a “salad” at a restaurant a few weeks ago, I was served a pile of shredded carrots and cabbage, much like coleslaw, completely drenched in mayonnaise. I haven’t been faced with much adventure food-wise, but I have tried a few local dishes, including fish and chicken benechin (a local rice and protein dish with tomatoes and onions), chicken yassa, a variation on chicken preparation, and m’bahaal, a chicken cooked in an intense groundnut sauce, much like peanut butter. The groundnut is a huge national product here, and is sold in bags on the street as well as in pastes and powders.

Alcohol consumption has been an interesting thing to observe. Because 90% of the population is Muslim, and Islam strictly prohibits alcohol, a large portion of the population does not drink. However, I have met plenty of Muslims who do, and the “club” next door is full of middle-aged men gathering for afternoons of drinking JulBrews, a Gambian-produced beer that tastes light but has a higher alcohol content than many American beers. The men also drink palm wine, a wine designed to get you drunk faster, and comes in packages similar to that of ketchup packets. My boss and his friends are members at the Reform Club and spend time there catching up and discussing the world, their jobs, their families and funny stories, of which all of them have plenty. They are a group of Christian and Muslim men and have spent time in all parts of the world. They include a judge, a human rights lawyer, a graphic designer, and a composer who has had his tunes featured in Jackie Chan movies.

By far my most exotic food adventure, however, has been the trips I have taken to Serrekunda market. This local market is not frequented by tourists, and contains fabric stores holding colors I didn’t even know existed, blacksmiths with gorgeous rings and bracelets, live chickens and goats, clothing, toiletries, and lots and lots of food. Trying to maneuver my way around the food areas of Serrekunda is definitely a challenge. Children are running, grains of all varieties are being explained and measured, women are brushing flies off their tomatoes and onions with homemade brooms, and most commonly, fish are being pestered by flies. The smell at Serrekunda, of peppers and fish and onions and animals, is a lot to handle, but definitely beautiful in the most colorful and artistic way, and has been a way to experience true Gambian culture. Even during Ramadan, the market is packed, with honking taxis trying to make their way through seas of reds, greens, yellows and blues. Women carry merchandise on their heads, a skill I have unfortunately not been able to perfect, but I’m working on it. Maybe my head is too round? It doesn’t even look like they are trying.

I have to say my most often purchased dinner is the $3 chicken, vegetables, and french fries. They serve you a half of a chicken, grilled and spiced heavily with onions and carrots in a pepper sauce. Even though they only have one burner so it takes an hour and a half to make two, it is definitely my go-to next door. They also have a delicious fish, and one other dish I haven’t tried yet: cow foot pepper soup. I haven’t quite worked my way up to that yet, but I promise to try it before I leave.

More later, because as of this weekend, there is wireless in my hostel! It is shifty with the power outages but I will try to write another post tonight.

The kids are he…

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So it’s been quite a while since I last posted, for a multitude of reasons.I have so many stories, so many new experiences, and simply do not know where to start. I’ve been very busy. The internet has also not been very cooperative, and the power has been particularly temperamental.

Ramadan started last Thursday, and I have been warned by many that what they call GMT, “Gambia Maybe Time” is even more accentuated by the fasting, however it has been hard for me to tell so far. Of my co-workers, 5/7 are Muslim, leaving just me and my boss, Poncelet, able to eat during the day. I am curious as to the long-term implications of this, and if the further into the fast we are, the more irritable everyone will be, but so far not much seems to have changed. In the supermarkets in my area (there are many right around me, up to five on one block), they are promoting Ramadan sales and Ramadan hours, open later into the night to accommodate the bellies of the 90% Muslim population. Although very few women cover their heads, and I have met many Muslims who drink alcohol and smoke cigarettes, faith is definitely a point of pride for many, and Ramadan is recognized and celebrated as a sacred and spiritual month.

This past weekend, I convinced Poncelet to drive Marquis and I to a local nature reserve, called Abuko. I was told it was peaceful and beautiful, and had been excited to go for a few weeks. However, as soon as we got there, there was rain like I have never seen. We are in the rainy season here, so it has rained lots and rained often, but this was beyond anything I have ever seen. So there we are, the three of us, sitting in a small hut with six Gambian tour guides, hoping the rain will pass. It didn’t. We decided to walk a little bit anyway, in a moment when it was slightly lighter, but as soon as we had walked for about 15 minutes, it was back, full force. We couldn’t even see five feet in front of us, and the path seemed to flood immediately. It was definitely an adventure, but I hope to go back and enjoy it another time. Later that evening, two other guests at the hostel, Nigerian interns at the Gambian Tourism Board, taught me how to make a Nigerian stew. I was skeptical when I saw we would be using chicken, shrimp, fish, clams, pork and beef, but it turned out well and it was fun to share with them. Sunday, we went back to our favorite brunch spot, an $8 all you can eat elaborate brunch, viewed as one of the nicest restaurants for miles. It is delicious, and it had finally stopped raining which was a good break. We relaxed a bit and walked around our neighborhood, and then YMCA director, John, took us to dinner in Senegambia. Senegambia is a very touristic area, where the majority of the nice hotels, dance clubs and many restaurants are located. I find it hard to walk around there, because Gambian men always want to talk to you, to “be your friend” and to accompany you to taxis or help you find something, in exchange for a tip. There is always someone who wants to sell you a lion statue (there are no lions in Gambia), a necklace or a pair of sunglasses reading “RayDan.” The hotels are gorgeous and all overlook the beach, but I find it far too much to handle. The dinner was delicious, and we listened to live music afterward, crowded into a bar with dozens of European tourists.

While we were sitting there, John got a phone call and told us there was no work Monday. Worried, we asked if everything was ok, if something was wrong. No, he told us, nothing was wrong, the president had just decided, on Sunday night, to name Monday a national holiday. Banks would be closed, and nobody has to go in to work. Sunday, July 22nd was the 18th anniversary of his take-over from the previous president, but he chose to announce a national celebration in his own honor for Monday, Sunday already being a day of no work. So yesterday, we visited a monkey park, where the monkeys were friendly, with dozens of brand new babies attached to their stomachs and backs, looking like little ET mini-me’s. The babies were pretty ugly but I got some good photos which I hope to upload later. Last night, I decided to return the favor and cook a little bit, so I made Mexican food, something nobody here had ever tasted. I made onions and peppers, beans, salsa, guacamole, and an attempt at Mexican rice I am pretty proud of. Throughout this process, I was playing very loud country music, and Malang, my caretaker came into the hostel kitchen. He danced to Sugarland, Jason Aldean, Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood. So at least I know that no matter what else I do, I will leave here having spread the joy of burritos and American country music with the Gambian YMCA.

As a side note, I had quite a few near-death experiences this weekend, or so I was convinced (don’t freak out Mom and Dad I promise I’m ok). Firstly, there was the cab driver who did not turn off the engine while filling up the gas tank, telling me to stop worrying and “be happy.” Then I almost got run over by a man, his bicycle, and his live chicken on the handlebars on my morning run. On the same run, the only person I have seen here with a gun, one of the many guards of the American embassy, stopped me and asked me to take my headphones out. I spent about 30 terrified seconds racking my brain regarding my passport, my visa, my activities since being in The Gambia….for some reason at that moment it made sense that if they weren’t in order he would shoot me…but he just wanted to tell me it was “respectable” that I was “training” so early in the morning.

The outlook towards physical fitness has been very interesting to me since my arrival in The Gambia. Because I am not in a big city, and areas here vary from incredibly crowded markets, banks, supermarkets, embassies, offices, schools, open fields, farms, etc., the beach seems to be a very central meeting point for locals. They gather at Fajara, the beach we prefer over the Senegambia beaches because of its fewer number of “bumsters,” as the local government calls them, and the significant amount of local/foreigner interaction, in a much less incentive-based manner. The first time I went to the beach, I was astonished by the number of men doing push-ups, sit ups, squats and sprints along the sand. They call this their “training” and usually follow it with a soccer game. I have never seen a Gambian woman involved in any sort of “training.” So when I run on the beach, near the YMCA, or anywhere else, I generally get a lot of stares. Not only do I stand out, but who is this crazy girl running on the side of the road? Many people stop me curiously, ask me if I am training, and I get thumbs-up’s from a few. One very old wrinkly man even offered me some water and told me my face was “burning.”

For now, at work, I am editing English essays, writing grant proposals and project proposals, and starting to get one in particular off the ground. I have applied for funding through various sources for the creation of a web portal through the YMCA Computer Center. The portal will allow local businesswomen to call in through their mobile phones-many people here have phones, but most do not have access to internet- and report what goods they are selling, at what prices and where. Many women in this area make their living by selling produce on the street, and Poncelet has been trying to work on this project for a long time, a women-helping-women idea, as the site will be managed by a young Gambian woman at the YMCA, fresh out of the Computer Training Program. Not only will it be an economic help, serving as free advertising, but it will also empower women and remind them that what they are doing is an important part of local society, culture and economy. I am finalizing our summer program curriculum, making handouts, and getting excited for the kids to come next week! I only get two weeks with them, but I know it will be a great way to finish out my trip.

For a while, I was incredibly homesick and felt very far from home. This was in no way a reflection on the incredibly friendly, welcoming nature of the Gambian people, but very little here reminded me of home, and it was easy to miss a lot of the things I take for granted on a regular basis. But as time goes on, I am already realizing how much I will miss it when I leave. I am excited to come home and see you all- either in the frenzy of eight days before going back to CMC, or at CMC- but as time starts getting faster, I know it’s going to be upon me before I even realize.

Hugs,
Cameron

So it’s been q…

Today is a very exciting day over here, firstly because I found somewhere that serves chocolate milk. The chocolate milk sold in supermarkets here is non-refrigerated. And because that has terrified me and I do not understand how that is possible, I have gone chocolate-milkless for 4 weeks! If you know me well, you know that this is incredibly uncharacteristic and somewhat shocking. But even more exciting, I have good enough internet connection to upload photos onto my blog! I have posted some photos below and will hopefully be able to upload more in the future.

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The beaches here are incredible- the water is warm, the sand is soft, and in the evening everyone gathers to exercise and play soccer, rugby, volleyball or just take a swim at the beach.

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This photo is from the local marketplace, called Serrekunda, which is so crowded it can sometimes be hard to move at all. There is an overwhelming amount of color and some quite interesting smells, and it’s where many locals go to buy their fish, fruits, vegetables, spices, etc. It also houses the local blacksmith, live goats and chickens for sale, and lots and lots of flies.

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Sleeping vendor at Serrekunda market.

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Another vendor at Serrekunda market with his groundnuts.

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Women selling charcoal at Serrekunda.

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Lebato beach, where we often eat dinner and play rugby on Tuesday and Sunday.

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My neighborhood!!

So far I have taken over 300 photos, so this is just a small portion and I have many more to share. Hopefully I can get some more added soon. For now, I will continue editing grant proposals and reading peoples’ English essays for grammar. Ramadan starts tomorrow, and I have been told that the slow nature of the country (be here at 9 really means try to be here before the day ends) is furthered by the fasting, which I completely understand. If I wasn’t allowed to eat between sunrise and sunset you probably couldn’t get me to do much either. More to come on that later.

Hugs

Today is a very…

When a little kid is walking along alone, hitting anything in his path with a stick, it’s safe to say something is bothering him. In fact, I’d say that is a fairly universal sign for “I am having emotions and I have no idea how to deal with them.” Although hitting random objects with a long, dead piece of tree is not the most constructive, I can think of many more harmful coping mechanisms.

 
When the scene is accentuated by swells of red dust, a dirty school uniform, and goats by the side of the road, the pathetic nature of his distress ends up outweighing any anger he may exude. The disgruntled look on his little brown face made me think about what problems could be weighing down on his sweat-covered head. Maybe the girl he likes held another boy’s hand at recess. Maybe he is scared to tell his dad about a bad grade he got on a spelling quiz. Maybe he dropped his PB&J on the floor at lunch time, or a bully stole his chocolate milk.
 
But I realize, while watching him pass one goat, then another, that these are not his problems. I am projecting my American elementary school storybook problems on a little boy who has never even seen a skyscraper, let alone ridden in an elevator. He has never seen a movie on a big screen or flown in an airplane. And yes, while the angst of puppy love and bullies and parental disappointment are the same in every language and true in every country, a place like The Gambia provides you, quite frankly, with a much more abundant selection of problems. When poverty, sickness, lack of resources and an overwhelming national obligation to succeed are placed on every student, it’s a miracle this kid, with his Power Rangers  backpack  and too-big green shorts, isn’t doubled over under the weight. 
 
When the national goal is to “get out,” to leave and find refuge in a place like the UK or US, it’s hard to understand the immense pressure on each member of society. Being here, it is more than clear that each and every young person is encouraged to use their home as a stepping stone. The Gambia isn’t somewhere you stay, it’s somewhere you start. Taxis have American flags in them, stores advertise “genuine American food products,” and the US and UK Embassies are basically forts, reminding passerby’s of the countries’ inaccessibility. The best schools here are all the “international” schools, more respected than the normal private schools. Because at these, you can find further education, advanced learning, in a country viewed as entirely superior to your own. 
 
But by viewing your country as a trap, as something to escape for something that is better, what does that mean? I recognize that many countries feel this way, but here it is publicized, encouraged. This is not a country with rebel groups, not a country where the leader is feared or viewed as oppressive. They enjoy freedom of religion and safety is recognized as a national point of pride.  The leader is revered and his methods appreciated. This desire for movement, the desire to seek refuge in Europe or America, has nothing to do with politics or discrimination. Instead, it lies in the view of success. Success is leaving The Gambia for school, success is getting a Visa to another country, through the long, grueling, usually impossible process. Success is realizing that where you are has no influence on where you should be going.
 
So keep hitting the rocks, the fence, the stump with that stick…because you know, some kid in America is probably doing the exact same thing. And if you ask me you have a little bit more of a right. Just don’t hit the goat, he didn’t do anything to you.

When a little k…

So people keep asking me what the hardest adjustment here has been.  Oddly enough, it has not been the power outages, the food (very much American) or the lack of hot water (don’t even notice it). It hasn’t even been the humidity or the language barrier or the heat. In fact, it has been the attention I get and the traffic/driving techniques.

In the area of The Gambia in which I am staying, the cars on the road are split about 50-50, taxis and regular vehicles. In the term “taxis” I include vans (usually quite full, serving a very similar purpose to buses), taxis that provide “town trips” (these serve the same purpose as at home) or regular taxis, which, for a fee of D7 (25 cents) you share a taxi with up to three other people and the taxis go on fixed routes, dropping off and picking up in various places. These have been hard for me to maneuver but I often take them from “Traffic Light” back to about three blocks from my hostel. Taxis often try to charge me more than the normal rate- apparently I look like a tourist, imagine that! – so I have strategically asked my coworkers to help me remember how much each town trip around here should be, and often try to take the shared taxis. “Traffic Light” is one of the central locations of my area, known as a destination because it is, you guessed it!, the only traffic light around for miles. You could call it a monument. Next to Traffic Light is a giant billboard of the president reading “A Vote For Him in 2011 Is A Sacred Duty for All Gambians,” and across the street is a bakery selling bread for D5 (17 cents)per  loaf, always fresh and always warm.

Around here there are no stop lights, lanes, stop signs, yield signs, or traffic guards, and absolutely no cross walks. I do not know how, but people and cars always seem to know where to go. Mix in the goats, rams, stray dogs and constantly flooded roads and it seems to me to be a miracle that there are not accidents every few minutes. A much more difficult adjustment as a pedestrian, however, is the honking. Taxis and cars here honk constantly. When you are walking along the side of the road, they want to know if you want a ride and will repeatedly honk at you until you wave them off, which ends up being quite the arm exercise if you’re on a long walk down the main street. Cars will honk and pass each other, honk at bicycles to get them out of the way, honk at each other if they are going under the unlisted, too fast assumed speed-limit, and sometimes seem to honk just to remind everyone that they are on the crowded street too. I haven’t quite figured it out. I often get a lot of amusement from the stickers that many drivers have pasted to their back windows- some of the highlights include “Get Rich or Die Trying,” “Rasta or Bust,” “The Rasta Never Dies,” or one that I road in that had pictures of Celine Dion, TuPac and Bob Marley decorating the interior.

Because I stand out here (I know, shocker again), and, aside from often visiting a beach very popular with Peace Corps volunteers and Ex-Pats, we try to stray away from the more touristic areas, I get a lot of attention. It is very common here to be greeted with “how are you?” or “what is your name?” on the street, instead of a nod or a “hello,” and this comes from a multitude of people, men, women or children. Young children will often yell after me “toubab,” a name here used to identify a white person. Most commonly however, men on the street often try to strike up a conversation and it usually includes one or more of the following: “do you want to be my friend?” “do you have Africell?” “I love you,” “will you marry me?” “where is your boyfriend?” or my personal favorite “Take me back to America with you!”  I never feel unsafe or truly threatened, although I have to say that watching my friend get offered a large sum of cash in exchange for me as a bride was quite a culture shock. The man had just finished telling us about his Native American fiancé in Seattle and his 11-year-old daughter, so it was especially hard to pass up.

On Saturday, I went to the local crocodile pools, a sacred area, however home to many school trips and tourists. The pools are said to be able to cure the woes of an infertile woman, and the crocodiles are not dangerous, so you can walk over and touch them. Following that visit, we went to Serrekunda market, a local market where women and men come to buy produce, fish, meat, fabric and live animals. Lots of fish and lots of flies. No visitors in sight, I was clearly the only “toubab” for quite a distance. I have never seen so many colors in one place. Or experienced so many smells in such a short time. It’s quite difficult to explain without a few photos-I unfortunately had to take my pictures pretty inconspicuously to avoid people asking for donations or telling me they didn’t want their photos taken, so some are at weird angles or the subject is a bit cut off, but I will try to post them anyways. Saturday evening, we went to a free concert held in the Gambian soccer stadium hosted by the local cell phone provider, Africell, and co-sponsored by the American Embassy. The Artists, typically, and even more accentuated by the customs of The Gambia, were 4 hours late, but we had left before the time they came on. Before we left, we watched children dance to the DJ’s and women balancing goods on their heads (groundnuts, mangoes, and bags of water), selling them to the concert-goers. There were no metal detectors, no rules, no tickets, and no problems. I can only imagine what a free pop music concert t in the US would have entailed. Gambian pop is pretty catchy, and even after only a few weeks here, there are a few songs on the radio I already recognize and know some of the words to. One of my personal favorites includes the line “I can’t believe you’re still a virgin.” Not sure if that’s a compliment or not but it’s a pretty peppy song.

Love and hugs,

Cameron

 

A few estimates:

Number of mangos I have eaten since I have gotten here:  3 times a day for 19 days = 57 mangos

Number of marriage proposals I have received: Approximately 15

Number of times I have been chased by a costumed man who is traditionally allowed to beat you if he catches you: 1

Number of crocodiles I have touched: 3

Number of snakes I have seen: 0 (LET’S KEEP THIS ONE GOING STRONG!)

Number of mosquito bites I have right now: 47 (this is not an estimate, I counted)

 

So people keep …

I had a truly incredible weekend. I had previously met one of my boss’ board members, a computer engineer from Norway who has grown increasingly interested in Gambian issues over the past few years. Marit and I met at the YMCA last week while visiting the ICT Training Center and we exchanged contact information (as a side note, Africell has had full service everywhere I have gone, even in the rural areas…take note AT&T). She comes back to The Gambia every few months to see how her projects are holding up. On Friday, she stopped by and asked me if I was interested in getting out of Kanifing (my area) a little bit. I said absolutely, and met her at her hotel on Saturday morning.

We drove to Nema Kunku, a small, very poor village not far away. There, she helps to facilitate the growth of a farm with a British couple and their children, who live there full time. On the farm, local, unschooled children can come drop by any time of day, and 15 at a time are allowed in to learn mathematics and spelling on five iPads stored in a trailer. Some of the others are drawn to the two huts housing large collections of legos and duplos nearby and then about 15 more children are allowed to come inside to do what the farms primary purpose is: teach effective and efficient farming techniques. The British couple, Mick and Jenny, used to have a farm in Brittany, but uprooted their family to come here, to a mango farm in The Gambia. Soon, they will be starting free summer programs for kids, and more farm education classes for adults. They use solar power and other specialized techniques and help keep the kids productive while their parents are hard at work at their own farms or businesses. The farm makes incredible mango jam and mango chutney, and a type of green powder harvested from wispy looking plants that apparently serves as a mega-superfood. Any requests please let me know! I will definitely be back to the farm and the jam was incredible!

After we couldn’t eat any more jam, we traveled to another village, called Lamin, which is also the name of about 50% of the men I have met in The Gambia. Apparently, it is traditional to name your first son, so I can only imagine the confusion in grade school. In Lamin, I had what was probably my most incredible experience since getting here. Marit introduced me to a woman named Yassin, the founder of a program called Starfish Girls. I was curious about the name, so she explained with the following story, copied below from the Starfish website (www.starfishinternational.org).

One day a man was walking along the beach when he noticed a girl picking something up and gently throwing it into the ocean. Approaching the girl, he asked, “What are you doing?” The girl replied, “Throwing starfish back into the ocean. The surf is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them back, they’ll die.” “My daughter,” the man said, “don’t you realize there are miles and miles of beach and hundreds of starfish? You can’t make a difference!” After listening politely, the girl bent down, picked up another starfish, and threw it back into the surf. Then, smiling at the man, she said…,

“I made a difference for that one.”

And Yassin truly is making a difference. We sat in a circle in a small courtyard of a one-room building, while each girl introduced herself and said why she loved Starfish, part of their Saturday program. The goal of the program is to empower young women and teach them to follow their dreams “even if your culture is telling you that you cant.” The girls, many of them from very poor families, are encouraged to work on their public speaking skills, their service to their community, and most importantly, their confidence and self-respect. I strongly encourage watching the videos and reading the articles that can be found on their website. Hearing the obstacles they had to overcome to reach even basic levels of schooling was something I had known existed in this country, but these girls brought it to plain view. The way they interacted with each other, clearly respected such an educated Gambian woman as Yassin and embodied the stressed characteristics of “Nobility, Independence, Courtesy, Knowledge, and Service” was truly inspiring.  As I was leaving, they were watching a video of a paraplegic man talking about what it’s like to fall and to get back up, and that somebody always had it worse. It was truly a striking moment realizing these girls were being taught that they didn’t even have it hard, that they should have compassion and empathy for the next person, and to be thankful for what they have received in their lifetime.

Sunday, I was privileged to meet another of Marit’s acquaintances, a young woman named Sambo, who came from a truly sad story. The daughter of a blind man and a physically disabled woman with four struggling younger brothers, she had asked for some help on her English speech for school. We sat together for about four hours, and it was amazing to hear her story and discuss her motivations to keep up with her education. Her ultimate goal is to become a UNICEF ambassador and work to stop gender-based-violence.

Since then, I have been back at the YMCA, working to prepare for our summer training program, which starts in a few weeks. I have been visiting schools, making forms, creating a curriculum, and getting very excited for the kids to come! Until then, I will be continuing to visit schools to promote ICT training, and helping teach business owners ICT classes in the morning and 9th grade ICT programs in the afternoons.

This weekend truly opened my eyes to where I am, and I strongly encourage everyone to visit the very well constructed and up-to-date Starfish website. They have photos of each girl, their dreams, and lots of amazing photographs, entries and videos about their activities.

I miss you all and have a wonderful July 4th! Maybe Marquis and I will convince some people here to celebrate with us…or just sneakily decorate the YMCA hostel with lots and lots of red, white and blue balloons. I wonder if they sell fireworks anywhere around here……….

I had a truly i…