Good News: one of my professors asked to help sponsor Ebrima to go to school! Ebrima now is registered for school starting in September, is sponsored until he finishes his sixth grade year, and also has a school uniform, backpack, schools supplies, and new shoes for school.
Sad News: The last time I went to his compound to visit I discovered that the family doesn't have any food. Literally. They didn't eat lunch that day. Ebrima's mother Tuuti asked me to buy the family a bag of rice, but I don't have that money. Tuuti asked me three or four times during the time that I was sitting with her to help her feed her family, but at the time I didn't have any money. Because I am her "friend" she expected me to help, plus the fact that I'm white. I realize now that I was naïve going into the situation. I wanted to help one boy but didn't realize that his entire family needed help. Out of eight children in the compound (five that are school-aged), three will go to school next year. I helped one child, out of the eight I met in this family. I felt so helpless sitting with Tuuti while she asked me over and over for help feeding her brood. She told me she has ten children. I admit once I left the compound I started feeling that drowning feeling (too many people want help from me, who do I say 'no' to?) and to try and rationalize it I started blaming her: she should have gone to the hospital to ask for birth control pills, she should put more pressure on her husband to take care of her (he lives in Kombo), she should find a way to earn money for her family like selling mangoes or caba at the hospital. In the end, it is not my responsibility to take care of her children—Ebrima's father was supposed to come home from Kombo last week but still hasn't come, and that's why the family has no food. I'm going to try to help (200-300 dalasis) but then I'm finished unless I can find a way to help pay for other kids' school fees.
Reflection: I truly believe that Ebrima could go far if he just gets the support he needs. When I was taking pictures of him, he asked to use my camera and he actually took good pictures of me and his siblings. I could see him growing up to be a photographer if he could be apprenticed or something, if he's still interested in that sort of thing in six years. I think I'm going to have to come back to see how everything is going with Ebrima and my family at Gibba Kunda. I'm trying to figure out now how to keep in contact with people and it's not easy!
More Good News: Hawa's TB of the skin is cured so she'll be going home soon, maybe even next week! After seven months in the hospital, she'll finally be going home!
More Sad News: I've heard rumors from the nursing staff that her mother is thinking of leaving Hawa's twin sister Adama and younger sister Anna with my host-mother in Gibba Kunda, though I'm not sure for how long. I could maybe understand if it's for another month because Hawa will have to travel back and forth from her village to the hospital for a month or two to keep receiving her TB medication, but if it's longer than that, that's just taking advantage. Hawa Sanneh (the mother) is younger than me by two years and has three young children (all under 4 yrs.), so I can appreciate how difficult it must be for her, but I've also heard other rumors about her mothering skills (including from her husband) that are not favorable. It makes me wonder if she is trying to free herself a bit from her children/husband/family responsibilities in general.
Reflection: I cannot imagine having three young children right now, but I'd like to think that if I did, I'd be responsible enough to devote myself to them. I worry about Hawa Kujabi (the girl) and her sisters.
Great News: I'm almost positive that PC is going to be able to work with World Food Program to deliver the cheap (in price, not quality) rice from Sapu , which will definitely help the women in Dabong. The rice will be delivered to one of the schools, I'll pick it up and sell it to the women, then whatever is left I'll return along with the money that it cost per 50 kilo bag.
Happenings: This past weekend, Fatima Senior Secondary School had its graduation ceremony. I was on the reception committee so I showed up at 7am and helped cook until almost 11, when the ceremony finally started (it was supposed to start at 9). Gambia Radio and Television Stations (GRTS) came to film the ceremony—all three and a half hours of it—and important people came who usually don't show their face at the school, like the director of the Regional Education Office (REO). The ceremony was great: the students performed songs, poems, and hilarious skits. Important people gave speeches that were over most peoples' heads. The posts of Head Boy/Girl and Deputy Head Boy/Girl were passed on, and then it was finished. Oh wait, the staff at Fatima also gave me a present for helping them with this school year. I now have six meters or beautiful and very bright purple fabric, which I need to figure out what to do with. I'm thinking of bringing it back with me to the states until I can find a nice pattern and a seamstress to sew it into a Western style outfit.
Remember all of that cooking? Well, the important people received chicken and potatoes with sauce, plus cake and canned drinks (which means they're special), the teaching staff/ex-Fatima students/graduating students/parents received meat pies, cake that the Sisters from the mission made, prawn crackers and bottled drinks (cheaper than canned), and everyone else (a.k.a. students from the lower and upper basic schools) waited to see if there were scraps. It makes me upset that these important people who may never have been at the school before receive a "special" meal, while the teachers/students who are there everyday and the parents who support their students receive snacks, and everyone else goes home empty handed. However, since I helped cook, I had a bit of everything. It was after eating and bringing some home for my family (I scored an extra chicken meal and a canned Fanta, plus some crumbled meat pies), that I went to visit Jallow Kunda and Tuuti told me that she and her kids hadn't eaten that day. It's not fair!!! And right next door to Tuuti's compound there is a bitik (bitik owners do well for their families), and the owner is friends with Tuuti, and yet he let her children go hungry. Tuuti is probably too proud to let her friends know the kind of trouble she's in, but she can tell me, which in essence transfers the responsibility onto me (that's how things work here). This situation in turn makes me think of how often it happens in America; that our next door neighbors are in some sort of trouble or the kids down the street are going hungry, and we don't know it.
Over the weekend my host mother traveled to another village for a circumcision ceremony for one of her nephews, which left 15-year-old Ma Binta in charge of cooking, cleaning, and managing four unruly children, plus me. Saturday I was sick because of the food I had eaten at the graduation ceremony, so I was pretty easy to take care of, but Fatou, Adama, plus Kadiyatou and Sey (who were thrust upon us so that the mother could go to the futaampaf) are unruly little wild ones who enjoy hitting each other and climbing on me. Kadiya especially enjoys hitting on me and hanging from my shirts—sometimes this is endearing but mostly it's annoying. Explaining to her that children are not supposed to hit adults garners no reaction, so I spent the weekend hiding in my house with the door locked. Yes, three-year-olds make me run and hide—big, strong, 24-year-old that I am. The children here can be absolute terrors because they are spoiled until they annoy an adult or older sibling, and then they are beaten. As I don't like hitting (though I confess to occasional slaps on the top of the head), my remaining choices are to run to an adult or teenager, explain the situation, then have him/her administer discipline, or run away and hide. One time when Fatou was being a pill I put her in time-out, and that actually was quite successful, but I can't do that with Sey or Kadiya because they are sooooo willful and aren't used to me. Ma Binta did an admirable job taking care of the house and children over the weekend, but I personally was extremely relieved to see my host-mother again today. I think Ma Binta will be a good wife and mother when the time comes, but I hope she will also be able to have a job and thus some independence as well.
I'm going to miss Dabong and Bwiam so much. The idea of extending my service has actually flitted across my mind on a few occasions: "If I stay for another year than I can work on this…I can help so-and-so with that…" Today a grade eleven student approached me and asked if I would be at Fatima next year. He wanted me to be the staff advisor for the Red Cross Club (he probably noticed my wicked-cool first aid skills when I was patching up kids after the bicycle race). Plus I could work more with the women's group, help the women's garden get more seeds, help fix up the science labs, improve my Jolaa skills…on the other hand, I just want to be back in America with people who love me for just being me.
Anywho, these are the thoughts that pass through my head as I count down to the day that the PC vehicle comes to take me away. 20 days!
Hannah Banana :-)