The big burning question that many of my friends and family have is, “so, what have you been doing?”. Right now, I am in Community Entry Period or the name I enjoy a little more, Three Month Challenge…I think it is more fitting. In this time period, I am supposed to stay in my site for the most part and focus on really integrating, getting better at the language, meeting as many people as I possibly can, and carry out a community health assessment. This means, I basically get to hang out with people all day, taste a lot of food, poke around in the school, help my Community Health Nurse, HM, and become the best Sarahule/American woman who I can be. For the most part, I am having a blast.
Some days I will get henna (Jabbe) done with my community representatives family and chat all day with the women. Other days I will spend the day with the teachers, observing the classes and helping out in one way or another. I constantly remind them that I am not an education volunteer…but I do what I can. Language is a never ending learning experience and some days are much better than others, but with my new-found Sarahule teacher and a family that really is committed to helping me excel, things are looking up. In the clinic, I help with various clinics, weigh a lot of babies, aid in nutritional surveying and have some really great lunches with the guys. This is a plus. Then, there are the days I just spend with my family. We laugh, chat, crack peanuts, make soap, cook food, spend time in the garden(s), and on the nights when I am not falling asleep at 8:00 on the bantaba (yes…I am a grandma but you would be too if you didn’t have electricity) I teach my kids english or read a book with them where we exchange Sarahule and English back and forth.
Integrating is fun, challenging, frustrating, rewarding, overwhelming, exciting and I still have moments of ‘I cannot believe I am here doing this’ pretty regularly.
What I really wanted to write this blog about, though, was a recent program that my school put on this past weekend. Drum roll please! Let me introduce you to the world of: Interhouse!
Each school has an interhouse. This day is a day where, after some intense training, the best athletes in the school participate in a friendly competition against each other. The real reason for interhouse is to increase school enrollment by getting families to come watch, have some delicious food, and see the fun and potential that these kids have. In The Gambia and especially in Sarahule villages, school attendance is a very big issue. Because Sarahule tradition runs very deep and the culture is very important to them, western education is generally not positively viewed or valued. In a village of over 8,000 people, there are less than 1,000 students enrolled in the school. This includes early childhood development to grade twelve, and when there is the need for help in the bush or in the compound during different seasons, the children that actually attend regularly is hardly consistent.
But back to Interhouse itself. The school is divided into 4 houses or Kundums: Red, Blue, Green, and Yellow. Two teachers are assigned to each color and train their teams in a TON of different events from high jump to musical chairs!
The events included: long jump, high jump, 1500 meter dash, potato race, 100 meter dash, 200 meter dash, 160 meter dash, 400 meter dash, three-legged race, 800 meter dash, bucket balance race, baton relay, and musical chairs. All of the events took the entire day from 9:00 am to 8:00 pm adding in the dance breaks and, my favorite, FOOD BREAKS!
Above: A fancy Gambian breakfast: salad, cucumbers, tomato, chicken, frenchfries, all on a fresh-baked loaf of long bread
The kids were amazing.
The sportsmanship was beautiful. Although the teachers got a little heated…they really had faith in each team and took the competition somehow seriously…
And of course, there had to be music and dancing…
Oh, and we cannot forget about the women who make all of the food and, more importantly, the party happen! The mother’s club:
In the end, I was able to be a guest of honor, an adopted member of the sports department and a point recorder. It was such a fun day.