Life throws all sorts of curve balls at me, even in the abstract realm of West Africa. As a general rule, it seems safe to assume that packing up and moving to Africa would be an unexpected and unpredictable life decision in itself. Strangely though, the decision of spending two years in The Gambia seemed very planned out and, uncharacteristically, a secure chunk of time. Silly silly me, right?
There are things that I planned for. I was ready for the pit latrines, the bugs, the diet change, the massive rats, the wrap skirts, the language battle, and the drastic culture switch. The impending doom of hot season and long rainy months seemed like the next unknown in my future, but also, those were trials that I could plan for. All of these preparations, plans and schedules seemed so set in stone. Well, Stephanie was reminded of something yet again this month. Nothing is ever set in stone.
On January 7th, I sat with my community health nurse and site mate who had come to visit my village for an uneventful weekend. Like most days, we were drinking attya and watching some random movie on HMs tv. Yes, my village may be deep in the bush, but we do have some electricity, and my community health nurse, HM, has a tv. We were watching Gravity and attempting to grasp the concept of outer space when the calls started rolling in. Other volunteers began to call me first, because news spreads like wildfire within the PC community. Eventually, with someone’s baby in my arms (where did that baby even come from?) I received the call for myself. All volunteers were moving into consolidation. We were moving to Senegal due to political unrest. None of us were entirely surprised. A dictator of twenty two years, as long as I’ve been alive, was not about to relinquish power without a fight. So I packed up one 50 L bag, biked over twenty k to our consolidation point, and two days later, all eighty some of us were relocated to one of the Senegalese PC training facilities. A little over twelve hours of nonstop travel, and the beginning of an unknown amount of consolidation time commenced.
Now, it is January 30th. Call it what you may. Consolidation, evacuation, purgatory, limbo, dare I say “living hell”-I leave these titles up to my fellow PCVs.
For the past twenty some days, after breakfast, we meet for “town hall”. This time consists of news updates, the day’s events and the lingering air of hope that we may be going home sometime soon. Every day consists of a little bit of news and a whole lot of uncertainty about the inauguration, the transfer of power, war ships rolling in, incoming troops, court dates and so on. This, as you can imagine, made it increasingly unstable to return to The Gambia. I personally don’t want to go into a huge amount of detail about the entire political scene, but I encourage you to explore some of the recent Gambian news if you have some free time.
I can provide you with a sparknotes version, I suppose: New president elect Adama Barrow was voted into office. Old president, His Excellency Sheikh Professor Alhaji Dr. Yahya A.J.J Jammeh Babili Mansa, was not happy about this election and decided that he wouldn’t relinquish power. ECOWAS forces entered The Gambia. Meanwhile, Jammeh continued to arrest Barrow supporters and thousands of Gambians were fleeing the country. Eventually, Jammeh left…with all of the treasury money and his vehicles…lovely. There was a temporary time where Gambia had no leader while Barrow was in Senegal. He returned to The Gambia this past Thursday. We shortly follow. There is so much more to fill you in on, and more and more news surfaces day by day.
The country is collectively sighing a sigh of relief, as am I. This is also a good time to note how far behind I have been on my blogging. Oops. So sorry. Returning to The Gambia will almost be a kind of reset, though. So, I will be starting fresh and attempting to keep up with this a little better. No one was expecting Senegal, so why not start over beginning with an unexpected beginning?
Reflecting on my time here, I want to be very honest. It has been like a very stressful vacation. The Senegalese PC and community have been so amazing and accommodating, don’t get me wrong. But, man. This has somehow been a nightmare. Of course, times like these have a funny way of taking me back to a humbling place. Times like these remind me that it’s actually not about me and that my “nightmare” consists of being stuck in a compound for a month, being fed three times a day (plus snacks) and having too much “me time”. Ew. Let me reevaluate my life for a second. Let me remind myself that history is currently being made in The Gambia.
In peace corps, we talk a lot about resilience. I think that it is safe to say that we as volunteers have a sense of pride in this label. After spending a month in very close quarters with my fellow PCVs, I would agree that this is an accurate depiction of PC. Then, I take a look at the people of my new home, and I am reminded even more of what resilience looks like. There is a huge shift occurring. A new Gambia is emerging. There is a shift from authoritarianism to democracy, a time of relief from fear, a time to heal the wounds that have plagued the entire country. How privileged do I feel to have been able to witness a people so passionately fight for freedom and change? It is life changing, honestly. In the next weeks, months, and years, a new Gambia with be developing. I, for one, and beyond excited to be a part of this transition. Rumor has it that the military check points throughout The Gambia are fading away. Change is already happening and we can only pray that it continues in such a positive way-Inshallah.
I love Kulari, love my host family, and in the near future cannot wait to blog about them. From site visit to now, so much has changed. And so it goes and so it goes.
I’ll leave you with some Senegal adventure photos. It’s a pretty dope place…mostly because I ate my body weight in gelato…