Sunday, December 25, 2011

African Christmas 2011

Christmas… wow
This will be the first time in my life I will celebrate Christmas away from my family.  Spiritually they are with me, for the last couple days they have all been in my thoughts.  I celebrated Christmas Friday afternoon.  Peace Corps brought my mail which included four packages, 3 letters, and one singing vibrating shaking booty elf card.  I had a friend come visit for a couple days so we made pumpkin pie spiced French toast, JELLO chocolate pudding with ice I had bought and then topped it off with apple pie flavored gum courtesy of my sister.   It was great my sister sent a box of Christmas presents that were wrapped so I naturally needed a tree to put them under.  So I ran out to my garden and brought in a small Macadamia nut tree I am growing and it was a nice addition. 

Me, My christmas tree and my Big brother
 I also was sent a picture of my brother and I from before I left.  I figure someone from my family needed to experience Christmas in Africa.  My friend Yahya also was there to watch and learn about what Christmas is.  

Yahay and I around my Christmas tree. 
(I am wearing a shirt my sister sent me to let her know I got it)
At times I had to stop and just take a breath because opening presents and reading letter starts to bring memories and thoughts of home and the people that are there.  It’s tough but in the end I was very happy and tired of my first Christmas in Africa.  
Christmas is not easy here in The Gambia, it can wear you out
My goat would personally like to send a huge thank you to her godmother (my sister) for sending her a beautiful pink collar.  It was a few inches too tall but, nothing a fire heated nail couldn’t fix and some nice tie straps couldn’t make a nice addition.
My goat with new collar in the goat house
My family all laughed and then stopped once they actually saw what I was doing and just stared in disbelief in that the goat has a pink collar.  In The Gambia usually wire, old fabric and paint mars an animal of who ones it.  I wanted to bring a little American culture to The Gambia.
My goat with the new collar
Thank you everyone who sent me a package or a letter or a padded envelope it was all a great addition to my Christmas. 

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Peace Corps Parade Gambian Style

I am in the big city for a few days.  On Monday we had a big parade to celebrate Peace Corps 50th year anniversary.  All 90+ volunteers and Peace Corps staff marched down one of the main paved streets in the city.  We were arranged by regions, I am in the western region.  We made a banner and marched with our flags.  We were led by The Gambian police marching band.

 Marching down a 3rd world street with sub par drivers is a little nerve racking but we made it without any major problems

Thursday, November 10, 2011


So Tobaski is a Muslim holiday where families are suppose to kill a ram if they have the money to buy one.  Then there are three days of eating and eating some more.  My host uncle has the money so we got a nice ram.  The ram had to be washed before hand to make sure it was clean.

Posing with a clean ram

After that they killed it and then we started to butcher it.  Butchering in The Gambia is a little different than in America.  Here we use somewhat sharp knives that have been sharpened on a concrete block and machetes.  It seems to get the job done.

The fine art of Gambian butchering

My friend Ben sent me some great bicycling magazines.  One day when my little brother came in and saw that I was reading one he wanted to read one or actually look at the pictures.  He flips through them pretty quickly but he is always talking to himself and giggling at them so they must be good. 

My brother Yaya, a big ROAD fan
I also received some crayons in another care package from another friend.  My three younger siblings come in every couple days in the morning for art and cookies.  They get a piece of paper and one crayon at a time to draw.  They laugh and giggle and seem to enjoy it. 
Howa, Salifoow and Yaya

Friday, October 28, 2011

Peace Corps 50th Anniversary Celebration

Last night was the 50th year celebration of Peace Corps world wide and 45 year anniversary of Peace Corps in The Gambia.  The Festivities where held at the village of Kanili.  This is the village of the president.  The day started off with all of the Peace Corps volunteers, Staff and United States Embassy staff; nearly 200 people caravanned in land cruisers and two large tour buses all the way to the village. 

The Parade grounds
Once we arrived we were treated to an amazing lunch of Goat, Lamb, Beef and bbq chicken along with amazing salads and fresh fruit. After lunch we walked over to the parade grounds where the event would take place.  As we waited they had a live band and music playing. 

The President and the Ambassador to his right

About The President, His Excellency Sheikh Professor Alhaji Dr. Yahya A.J.J. Jammeh made a entrance by driving his own range rover into the parade grounds and then continued to shake all of the Peace Corps volunteers, staff and embassy’s hands.  Then there were speeches by five volunteers in five of the local languages along with speeches of Peace Corps counterparts, US Ambassador to The Gambia and the Peace Corps Director.  The Keynote speaker was the President himself which gave a great speech thanking us along with thanking our parents back in America for both making sacrifices to come here and help his country.
The President giving his keynote address

After the speech the President gave all of the woman volunteers custom tailored outfits.  After they received their outfits the men also received custom tailored outfits.  I was one of the lucky ones and was third in line to choose my outfit.  When I walked up to the president he said I could have a small outfit or a large outfit that was exactly like his.  It didn’t take me anytime to decide that I wanted one just like his.  Once I shook his hand and thanked him and examined it closer and it was actually a outfit that had been tailored for the president himself just in a different color. 

Weighing my options
A few of us decided to try them on and see how they looked.  They look amazing; they looked so good that three of us actually got our pictures taken with the president in them.  I don’t have that picture now but I PROMISE I will get it up as soon as I receive it.  
Showing off our new outfits

By then it was almost one in the morning.  We all walked back over to the lodge for dinner which was the best dinner I have ever eaten at one in the morning.  We then heard from The Gambian police band which featured a bagpipe, and watched a video that one of our volunteers had made about Peace Corps service in The Gambia.  Once dinner was finished it was about in the morning.  About half the volunteers stayed spend the night in Kanili and the other half came back to stay the night at the Peace Corps Transit house.

Overall the celebration was great and something that I will remember for a long time.

A little proof I was their thanks to the jumbotron

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Harvest Times Two

Recently I returned from a few day trip to the Lower River Region of The Gambia.  My host brother and I went to help our other brother harvest his coos.  It was a great experience, I got to see another part of the country that I have not seen.  It was also the first time I have stayed at someone’s compound that wasn’t a Peace Corps Volunteer’s. 
Coos Field

Small coos piles

Tying bundles

My brother, Me with the tools of the trade, and cousin

Brother, cousin, Brother

Transporting coos bundles
The way you harvest coos is very labor intense just like everything that is grown in The Gambia.  There were five us that were in somewhat of a line.  As you walk with your knife you bend over and cut off the coos seeds that are on a long round stem that is anywhere from four or five inches long to two feet long.  You then put the coos in a pile and continue to the end of the field.  We then turn around and combine all the small piles into larger piles.  On the last day we walked around and tied all the piles into bundles and then combined two bundles together to make one large bundle.  All together in one field we got I think about 15 large bundles.
Pile of large bundles
One afternoon I went and helped the mother of the man whose compound we were staying at knock sorghum seeds off of the shoots.  How this is done in The Gambia is with your feet.  You take a handful of the cut stocks with the seeds on them and put them on a opened up rice bag and then step on them with your bare feet and rub your feet all over the seeds to knock them off.  It is a slow process and somewhat monotonous process but sorghum is very sweet and worth the effort. 

Sorghum before processing


After processing

A hard days work, 35 Liters of sorghum

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Harvest Time

It is nearing the end of the raining season so people are starting to harvest their peanut and rice crops.  I asked my host father how much his compound that has about 12 in it how much rice they consume each month.  He looked at me and laughed and said too much.  He then said about two bags a month and about a bag of coos every month.  Each rice bag is about 100lbs and that is the same for the coos.  That means my family eats over a ton of rice a year.  I then tried to think back about how much rice my family in the states eats and I really couldn’t remember ever buying more than ten pounds of rice at a time and I told my host father we ate less than 50kgs a year and he was astonished at that and then asked what I ate.  He then told me that we had just recently ran out of coos.  My family eats coos in porridge ever morning.  One of my host brothers left in June to grow coos in another region of the country, he does this every year.  We called him and he said he has just started harvesting coos.  So we decided that my brother here and I will go and help him harvest coos for a few days and hopefully bring back a bag or two of coos back with us for the family.  If not, we will continue to eat left over rice from dinner that is reheated and served for breakfast.  

This week I spent two days helping a family in my village harvest rice and I spent one day helping another man harvest peanuts.  I will first explain the process of harvesting peanuts.  You walk along in a line however many men there are.  Each person bends over and pulls out the peanut plants and shakes some of the dirt off and you put them in piles and you walk the whole length of the field.  Then a small boy comes along and puts them in one large pile.  Around this one large pile is where any able body person that can work is working pulling peanuts off the plant a few at a time and putting them in a bucket that is then emptied into a large 50kg rice bag.  I spent about nine hours pulling peanuts off the plant and filled my four gallon bucket five times.  The fifth time I got to take it home as a payment for helping, I also got fed lunch. In all we filled four and a half rice bags with peanuts in one day.  Currently one rice bag is being sold for approximately $20 USD.

Doing work

Rice bag O peanuts
Harvesting rice is done with a curved serrated knife that is about 16” long with a handle.  You walk along the rows of rice grab a handful of rice  a few inches off of the ground and then cut it with the knife, you  do this till your hand is full of rice stocks and then you put it in a pile and go to the next row over, you work 3-4 rows a person.  Another guy comes along and ties them piles with strips of fan palm leaves and then takes them to one large area to let them dry.  The effects of 90+ temperatures and over 90% humidity and bending over for two days my hamstrings and body were sore and tired.  I spent all day yesterday lying on the cool cement porch with a fan sleeping and reading.
Rice field

Cut rice in piles

Bundles of rice drying

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Mikey's Gift Registry

I have been asked by people, “What can I send you?”  Well here is a list of things you can send.  There are things that I have forgotten that I know I will remember as soon as I get back to my village and I sit down hungry and wish I had (enter anything delicious here). Food is important, I eat a lot.  I eat my three meals with my family and then supplement it with lots of local peanut butter, crackers, jam, and any other food people send me or I buy in the city.   I seem to continue to lose weight, I don’t really seem too concerned to weigh less than 190 lbs now.  On a recent hiking trip I mentioned to some friends it’s a lot easier to hike when you lose 70lbs.  This list will change constantly and be updated.  So check in on a regular basis.  If you do send foods, put it in ziplocks and package it well so nothing will puncture the package.  Besides food there are other entertainments I could use.

Sunflower seeds- any flavor but hot
Granola bars- odwalla, cliff etc all delicious
Trail mix
Mac and cheese packets
Any food that you can just add water too- instant pasta, soups, NO RICE A RONIE
Any candy or sweet food
Any junk food lying around your house you don’t want
Any homemade treats
Dried fruit

Any good books
Magazines- hunting, sports, sports illustrated, Time, Newsweek etc
XL pearl snap shirts
2012 Oregon Hunting regulation book
Sudoku books or puzzles
Good earplugs


I just got back from about a week ago from an 18 day vacation.  I went to Guinea Conakry along with 6 other Peace Corps Volunteers.  It was a great trip.  We went to a small mountain village that is on the top of a large plateau about 3600ft and hiked for 6 days.  We saw large waterfalls, incredible cliffs, rock formations, caves and hiked through jungle like forests.  In this small village they grow their own coffee and sell it.  The entire six days we were drinking fresh coffee.  I am not a big coffee drinker but I am now.  I brought back over four lbs of coffee with me to drink.  It is now my morning tradition.   They also have large French bread in Guinea, it is over two feet long and cost about 30 cents and taste like French bread.  Another great delicacy I stumbled upon was basically the equivalent to corn flour donuts that are the size of a cue ball, I ate the heck out of them.  They It was a great break from The Gambia and life here it reenergized me and made me excited to get back to The Gambia. 
Crazy Guinean caterpillar
Add caption

On the way down we came to a river with a small ferry.  The way you get across is by pulling a large chain to get across.  It holds about six cars and as many people as can fit.  Well it broke down a couple hours before we got there and they said it wouldn’t be fixed until the following day.  So we decided to set up camp and call it a night.  I got the lucky bed of the hood one person slept next to the car in the grass and everyone else slept in the car.  We all didn’t really sleep all that well or much but it worked out.  We ended up getting across around the next day.
My bed

Guinean ferry system

water crossing

Labe, Guinea


A few days ago I went and helped harvest watermelons with a guy in my village along with my younger host brother.  I show up and they start cutting open 2 or 3 watermelons and you eat until you are completely stuffed. We all sit around for a half hour or so then we each grab a rice bag and walk out to the field to start collecting them.  Earlier in the day some of the guys had already cut the watermelons off the vine and put them in small piles, all we had to do was go to the piles fill our bags with what we could carry and bring them back the 100yards or so and drop them in a pile.  After we collected them we counted them and put them in piles according to size and then ate a few more of the smaller ones.  As payment for helping, we each got to take a few home, so between me and little host brother we had six watermelons.  My host mother was happy along with the rest of the kids, they ate three of them right then when I showed up.
Lamin my host brother on the left unloading watermelons

Me double fisting

Friday, August 12, 2011

Farmer Mikey

Alright here are some pictures of what I have been up to lately.  I built a new garden behind my family’s house.  It is much larger than my other garden; it is about 15meters by 35 meters.  I have planted beans, corn, potatoes, cassava, rice and peanuts.  I plowed it with my brother all by hand with a shovel.  It took me a few hours each day working to finish it.  
My new Garden

Me in my new garden

Me planting rice
I recently was woken up to the familiar sound of my host brother banging on my door to wake me up to come help him work.  This time he was going to one of his fields to plow it with cows and had no one else to go with him.  I told him I would meet him there I had to make breakfast and get dress first.  

Finished plowed field


When I finally made it out there I saw him with three small boys helping him plow his field.  I was completely taken back by the power that two cows can create.  They move the plow with out any effort.  I don’t know why but it fascinated me and was caught just staring at it for a while.  

The process is this.  The plow driver keeps the plow going straight and lifts it over stumps or moves it around trees you want to keep.  As you can see in my picture I am lifting it over a stump.  Then the two small boys, one on each side use sticks and a rope to steer the cows and keep them on someone of a straight line. The whole processes become somewhat comical after a while especially once my host brother told me what he was yelling at the boys it seemed like every few seconds.  He was yelling at them “don’t sleep wake up!!  The boys would not pay attention or look around or look at me, because I was trying to get a picture of them.  Or they could have not paid attention because it is the month of Ramadan.  During this time everyone is fasting, so no food or water from 5:30am to 7:30pm.

A view from the drivers seat
You may notice that I am wearing flip flops.  I have adopted the custom of doing everything in The Gambia in flip flops.  You can plow a field, roof a house, ride a bike, play soccer or even plant rice.

Throughout the day I kept thinking to myself how we are doing so much with such simple tools.  We have a few cows, a plow, some rope and chain a couple small boys and some big white dude in flip flops.  I kept saying to myself, “so this is what it was like before tractors….”  It was fun, I could totally see myself buying a couple cows, a plow and heading back to my parents backyard farm and testing out my new plowing.  Or another option is move out east and see if the Amish need a hired plow hand??  These are all things I need to weight over the next 20 months before I have to move back….Feel free to kick in some feedback.