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…


6 thoughts on “The kids are he…

  1. Janet Corum says:

    Cameron, your blog is so much fun to read! Your descriptive writing enables me to see your surroundings, hear the sounds, smell the aromas, and sense your excitement. Your frustration with trying to teach those students less advanced while still engaging Tge ones who are advanced, is something I can definitely relate to, having been a public school teacher for many years. Thank you for sharing your experiences!

  2. Allan says:

    Hi Cameron
    Your “Aunty”story reminds me of when Alex and I were on our honeymoon and went for hike in Nepal with a young guide. He thought I was Alex’s father! I guess we just look so different they cant put an age on us, so Aunty seems like a nice form of endearment!.
    It sounds like you are having a wonderful experience and getting the most out of it. Keep up the good work and perhaps you teach the African Bill Gates!
    Allan and Alex
    Ps I ‘ll pass your link onto Angus. He has just started a 5 week trip around Central America.
    Milly gets back from a 6 week back packing trip around Thailand won Friday.

  3. Ella says:

    Cameron… What an adventure! Truly one of those life shaping experiences you cannot even estimate how the dot will connect until you look back on it in the coming years. I was touched by your Starfish story. I always encourage folks to “Bloom where you’re planted.” You are seeing it is spades.

    Incidentally, in addition to all of your other advertised skills… TESL, MS Word, basketball and the rest of that extensive list, you spin a pretty good story. I read every entry. Well done. Just curious about what is the going offer from an already affianced gentlemen looking for wife # 2?

    Give my best to your folks. Keep the posts (and pix) coming and be safe.

    Jody & Ella

  4. Jennifer G. says:

    What a wonderful experience!!! I am enjoying your blog, please keep up your sense of humor and sense of adventure! it’s really fun to be on the trip with you. -Jennifer G.

  5. Ann Alpers says:

    I love your blog, Cameron. You’re amazing to share your Gambian adventures with all of us and to do so in such evocative prose. Your stories of Starfish, the Gambian children, and Ramadan celebrations have moved me but the Hanson girls are particularly anxious for details about cow’s foot soup and pictures of you balancing groceries on your head. Have a wonderful rest of your trip.


  6. Lynn Johnson says:

    As the others have commented, your descriptions are so full I can actually smell the food, see the marketplace and hear the children calling for you. Wish I was there. I’m so glad the kids are finally there. Enjoy & keep writing! Aung Dumpling

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